A transient ischemic attack (TIA) can be a warning sign of a more serious stroke. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of a future stroke. This may include managing your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar, and treating existing heart conditions.

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A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is sometimes called a “ministroke.” It shares many of the same symptoms as a full-blown stroke, but the symptoms of a TIA are brief, lasting anywhere from a few minutes up to 24 hours.

Although a TIA doesn’t usually lead to lasting disability or changes in your brain function, it can be a warning sign of a more serious stroke. You may be able to reduce your risk of a stroke in the future by treating underlying conditions and making some lifestyle changes.

This article will take a closer look at the steps you can take to help prevent a more serious stroke down the road if you’ve had a TIA.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, an estimated one in three people who have a TIA will experience an acute stroke in the future.

The timeframe of a stroke after a TIA is unclear. According to a 2021 study, more than one-third of those who had a stroke after a TIA experienced the stroke within 90 days of the TIA. A 2018 study suggests that within the first year, the rate of stroke following a TIA is about 6.4%.

Although a TIA usually doesn’t cause complications, it’s important to get immediate medical attention, even if your symptoms only last for a few minutes. By understanding what caused a TIA, you can take steps to help prevent a future stroke.

Medical professionals may use a scoring tool to help determine your short-term risk of a stroke after a TIA.

What are the symptoms of a TIA?

A TIA and stroke have similar symptoms. The difference is that TIA symptoms usually go away within an hour. TIA symptoms may also be milder than those of a stroke.

Common symptoms include:

  • weakness, numbness, or paralysis on one side of your body
  • sudden confusion
  • trouble speaking or understanding others
  • loss of balance or coordination issues
  • sudden, severe headache
  • loss of vision or vision changes in one or both of your eyes
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You may be able to lower your risk of a stroke after a TIA by working with a healthcare team and focusing on manageable cardiovascular risk factors and making certain lifestyle changes, as outlined below.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for stroke and other cardiovascular conditions, such as a heart attack and heart failure. But lowering your blood pressure is often possible, especially with the help of antihypertensive medications and healthy lifestyle changes.

A 2022 study suggests that starting blood pressure-lowering medications immediately after a TIA is one of the most effective means of lowering your stroke risk.

Lowering your blood pressure may also require:

  • Maintaining a moderate weight: Work with a healthcare team to determine a moderate weight for you and what you can do to reach and maintain that weight.
  • Getting good quality sleep: Prioritize your sleep and aim for at least 7–9 hours of sleep each night. If conditions such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea prevent you from getting the sleep you need, work with a doctor or healthcare professional to find solutions that work for you.
  • Managing stress in healthy ways: Try relaxation strategies such as breathing exercises, meditation, or exercise to help lower your stress levels.

Cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance in your blood that can build up inside your blood vessels. This buildup is known as plaque. It can narrow your arteries and restrict your blood flow. Plaque may also break away from the artery wall, which can cause blood clots to form that travel to your brain, blocking blood flow to areas of brain tissue.

A 2019 study suggests that lowering cholesterol levels may lower your risk of stroke. The key to effective cholesterol management often includes:

  • making dietary changes, such as reducing your intake of saturated fats and trans fats, increasing your fiber intake, and eating more fruits and vegetables
  • exercising for at least 30 minutes most days of the week
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • taking cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins, if recommended by a doctor

High levels of sugar (glucose) circulating in your blood can damage your arteries, organs, and blood vessels. Damaged blood vessels can raise your risk of a stroke.

Keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range is important for everyone, but it’s especially critical for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. In general, a fasting blood glucose level of below 130 milligrams (mg)/deciliter is recommended.

If you’ve had a TIA, it’s a good idea to track your daily blood sugar levels and to make dietary adjustments based on your readings.

A 2022 position paper recommends strict long-term blood sugar management after a stroke to help prevent further complications.

Some types of heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation (AFib) can significantly increase your risk of a stroke.

When your atria (upper chambers of your heart) don’t contract in a regular, steady rhythm, it can cause the blood in your heart to pool. When blood pools in your heart, it can increase your risk of a blood clot forming. The clot can then travel to your brain, resulting in a stroke.

If you’ve received a diagnosis of AFib, it’s important to work with a doctor to determine what type of treatment is right for you. Effectively managing AFib may help reduce your risk of a stroke.

If you have symptoms of AFib, such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or chest pain, but haven’t received a diagnosis, be sure to talk with a doctor about these symptoms.

Your diet plays a key role in several stroke risk factors, including:

  • weight management
  • blood pressure management
  • blood sugar levels
  • cholesterol levels

To reduce your risk of a stroke, try to:

  • Cut back on salt, which can raise your blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends a daily sodium intake of no more than 2,300 mg, ideally no more than 1,500 mg.
  • Limit your intake of foods that contain saturated and trans fats, which can raise your cholesterol levels. Instead, focus on unsaturated fats (found in fish, nuts, olive oil, and avocados).
  • Increase your intake of foods that are high in fiber, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Try to limit your intake of foods that contain added sugars.

The following eating plans may be especially helpful:

Exercising most, if not all, days of the week is associated with many health benefits, which may help lower your stroke risk. These benefits include:

  • better blood pressure management
  • greater cardiovascular fitness
  • improved sleep
  • lower cholesterol
  • improved weight management

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise. Try to limit long periods of inactivity by getting up and moving throughout your day.

You don’t need to do all your exercise at once. For instance, you can take brisk 10-minute walks three times a day to get 30 minutes of exercise.

Smoking doesn’t only harm your lungs. It also damages your other organs as well as the inner walls of your blood vessels, making them stiffer, which increases your risk of a stroke.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who smoke are more likely to die from a stroke than people who used to smoke or people who never smoked.

There are many smoking-cessation products and programs that can help you quit smoking. Talk with a doctor about which products may be best suited to you.

If you’ve tried to quit and been unsuccessful, think about what you learned from your attempt, then try again with a different strategy that incorporates the lessons you learned.

A TIA, also known as a “ministroke,” is a temporary condition that doesn’t appear to cause lasting complications.

But research shows that about one-third of people who have a TIA have an acute stroke in the future. That’s why it’s important to get medical attention for a TIA. Knowing the cause of it can help you take steps to prevent a more serious stroke down the road.

Preventive steps may include keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range, managing your cholesterol and glucose levels, and treating existing heart conditions. Lifestyle changes, such as getting regular exercise, eating a heart-healthy diet, and quitting smoking may also lower your risk of a stroke.