A brief, temporary blockage of blood flow to part of your brain can cause a transient ischemic attack (TIA). This small stroke or mini stroke can be a warning sign. About one-third of people who experience a TIA will have a major stroke with permanent brain damage in the future. How can you protect yourself? Know your TIA risk factors and be able to recognize symptoms to seek treatment and avoid a serious or deadly stroke.
When a blood clot forms in an artery of your brain, it can interrupt blood flow to your brain. Likewise, a clot can travel from another part of your body such as your heart or leg to interrupt your brain’s blood flow. A narrow or injured blood vessel in your brain or neck arteries leading to your brain also can cause a TIA.
TIA has sudden stroke-like symptoms similar to the real thing, and you may confuse the two. However, your body uses its clot dissolvers to break up and dissolve the blockage quickly, usually within a few minutes or hours. This restores blood flow to your brain, avoiding lasting damage. While a TIA seems less dangerous than a stroke, it’s still a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical attention, even if your symptoms disappear; they may recur later. Go to a hospital emergency room in the first hour of symptom occurrence because lifesaving steps can prevent a major stroke.
Any of these TIA symptoms can come on suddenly:
Abnormal feeling of movement (vertigo) or dizziness
Numbness, tingling or weakness on one side of your body, usually arm, leg or face
Lack of coordination and balance, clumsiness or trouble walking
Alertness changes including sleepiness, being less responsive, unconsciousness or in a coma
A blank stare, confusion or memory loss
Changes in feeling including touch, pain, temperature, pressure, hearing and taste
There are many factors that increase your risk for TIA. If you are aware of these factors, you may be able to control the likelihood of suffering an attack.
High blood pressure
Family history of stroke
Poor leg circulation
Birth control pills
Heavy alcohol use
Increasing age, especially after 55
Race (African-Americans are more likely to die from a stroke)
You can reduce many, though not all, of these risks through lifestyle changes and medication to avoid a major stroke in the future.
Even after symptoms disappear, an ER doctor usually can pinpoint the cause of your TIA, which determines your treatment. Your medical history alone may provide adequate clues. You may need to undergo tests to check for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol.
If you had a TIA in the last 48 hours, hospital admittance for observation and testing is a must. A physician will check for problems relating to your heart, blood vessels, blood pressure, nerves and muscles. Using a stethoscope, he or she will listen to your heart and arteries. She or he may discover irregular blood flow has caused an abnormal sound called a bruit.
An echocardiogram and other tests can diagnose atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rate that can cause blood clots. Additional tests including a CT scan or MRI of your brain, angiogram, echocardiogram and carotid ultrasound can rule out a stroke and other disorders as causing your symptoms. They also can detect a blocked artery that may need surgery.
The goal of TIA treatment is to prevent a full-blown stroke. Your test results dictate if you need immediate treatment and which of the following medications and/or procedures will help you most.
Crestor is a statin prescription drug that slows plaque buildup in your arteries. Along with a proper diet, it also reduces the amount of cholesterol your liver produces. Lowering LDL or “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides while raising HDL or “good” cholesterol will decrease your heart disease risk and help prevent strokes and heart attacks. In addition to eating a low-cholesterol/low-fat diet, other lifestyle changes may help Crestor work better. Combine it with exercise, weight loss if you’re overweight and not smoking.
Prescription blood thinners including Aggrenox, Coumadin, Heparin and Plavix keep clots from forming so blood flows more freely. You will receive high blood pressure, heart disease, atrial fibrillation, diabetes, high cholesterol and blood disorder treatment as needed to avoid future complications.
If you have clogged neck arteries, you may need balloon angioplasty with stent placement to open them. A carotid endarterectomy procedure removes a blood clot surgically.
A transient ischemic attack is more than a warning stroke — it’s a medical emergency. Whenever you have TIA symptoms, take the warning very seriously. Do not ignore symptoms just because they go away. Call 911 for an ambulance or have a friend or family member drive you to the ER, preferably within an hour. Get there as quickly as you can. With timely and proper treatment, your chance of preventing a disabling or life-threatening stroke is in your favor.