by Kimberly Allen, RN
TIA’s, or transient ischemic attacks, are frequently referred to as “mini stroke.” However, the truth is that they are just strokes – just ones that resolve themselves. The technical definition of TIA is a temporary episode of neurologic malfunction caused by a loss of blood flow without the death of any tissue. As with strokes, people over 55 years of age are more frequently affected by TIA’s than those under 55 years of age. TIA’s occur in men more often than women and those with a family history of TIA’s have a much greater chance of suffering from TIA’s.
TIA’s are most commonly caused by a blood clot that blocks one of the arteries in the brain. Essentially TIA’s are caused by the same things that cause strokes, including atherosclerosis. There are also similar risk factors that increase your chances of suffering TIA’s including high blood pressure and heart disease especially those with atrial fibrillation because in atrial fibrillation the atria “jiggle” instead of beating in a smooth regular beat which can throw tiny blood clots into the blood vessels. Diabetes and high cholesterol also increase your chances of suffering from TIA’s as well as smoking and migraine headaches.
So what happens during a TIA? A TIA occurs when something either blocks or reduces the blood flow to an area in the brain. The main difference between a TIA and a full stroke is that a TIA resolves itself without causing permanent damage and in a stroke brain cells die causing permanent damage. The symptoms of TIA are similar to those of a stroke except that they usually last for only a few seconds to a few minutes. The best way to remember and identify symptoms of a TIA is to use the acronym F-A-S-T which stands for Face, Arms, Speech and Time.
Face – You may experience difficulty smiling or using your mouth and one side of your face or a eye may droop.
Arms – You may also experience numbness in your arms and be unable to raise both arms due to severe weakness.
Speech – your speech may be slurred.
Time – Even if the symptoms resolve with in minutes you need to dial 911 and seek emergency medical assistance.
Because TIA’s tend to resolve quickly you usually don’t have any symptoms by the time you see a doctor. So the doctor will need to get a detailed account of your symptoms during the TIA as well as the length of time the symptoms lasted. Unfortunately, many people feel that the symptoms have resolved so they don’t need to seek medical attention. Almost all people that experience a TIA have a stroke within a year.
Treatment for TIA’s depends on several factors including your age and medical history. As a rule, your doctor will start you on medications that prevent strokes as well as treat any pre existing medical conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. If you are a diabetic, your doctor will recommend measures to help you manage your diabetes and keep your blood sugar levels within normal limits. The doctor will also recommend lifestyle changes, including not smoking and limiting your alcohol intake. It’s also important to maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly, as well as eating a healthy, well-balanced diet that is low in saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium and high in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Whether or not you’ve had a TIA in the past, adopting these lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your chances of suffering one in the future.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.