Transient Ischemic Attack

A transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is a short lasting episode, sometimes called a "mini stroke." A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is cut off. With a TIA, the blockage of blood flow to the brain starts suddenly and lasts only a short time. When brain cells do not get enough blood, they can’t get enough oxygen and you experience stroke symptoms. With a TIA, symptoms usually go away within an hour, however in some people they may last up to 24 hours, and you shouldn’t ignore them. It is recommended that you seek medical attention immediately to be evaluated and treated in the event you are having symptoms.

Some of the most common ways that a TIA happens are:

  • The blood flow slows down in one of the major blood vessels that supply the brain.
  • A blood clot in another part of the body breaks loose and travels to the brain.
  • A blood vessel inside the brain becomes narrow because of a build-up of the fatty substance called plaque.

Even though a TIA is not a full stroke, it is a medical emergency. If you have TIA symptoms, you need treatment within one hour. Also, about one in three people who have a TIA will go on to have a full stroke.

Causes

There are many risk factors that make you more likely to have a TIA.

Common risk factors are:

  • Having a personal or family history of stroke
  • Being older
  • Being a man or
  • Being African American

Other risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Blood vessel disease
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Diabetes
  • Poor diet
  • High cholesterol
  • Being overweight
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Use of birth control pills

Symptoms

Symptoms of TIA are like stroke symptoms. They start suddenly and may include:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg—usually on only one side of the body
  • Feeling confused and having trouble speaking or understanding others
  • Vision problems in one or both eyes
  • Dizziness and loss of balance
  • Trouble walking

Diagnosis

It is important to find the cause of TIA as soon as possible to prevent a stroke. Your health care provider will listen to your heart and the blood vessels in your neck, check the blood pressure in your arms, and examine your nervous system. Other tests may be done including:

  • Blood tests such as; a complete blood count, a blood sugar test, and a test that measures how long it takes for blood to clot
  • An EKG, or electrocardiogram, to check for an abnormal heart rhythm
  • An Ultrasound, which takes images of the heart and neck using sound waves
  • Imaging of the brain and neck with an MRI, which creates images using radio waves and a computer, or a CT scan, which is a computer-guided, cross-sectional x-ray

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to prevent stroke. The best treatment will depend on the cause of the TIA. Your treatment may include:

  • Anti-platelet drugs to prevent blood clots. These drugs work by keeping blood cells called platelets from sticking together. Aspirin is a common anti-platelet drug.
  • Drugs called anticoagulants to prevent blood clots. They work by stopping the proteins that form blood clots. These drugs may be short or long acting. You may need one of these drugs if you have an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation.
  • One of the carotid arteries, which are the major blood vessels in the neck that supply blood to the brain, may need to be opened up to improve blood flow to the brain. This may be done with open surgery, called an endarterectomy, or a less invasive procedure, called an angioplasty. In a carotid angioplasty, a special balloon is guided to the narrowed portion of the artery and inflated to open up the artery. A small wire mesh stent may then be placed inside the artery to keep it open.

Prevention

In addition to medications, lifestyle changes are the best way to prevent TIA. These include quitting smoking and not drinking too much alcohol. It’s also important to get serious medical conditions, such as; high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes, under control by working with your health care provider and carefully following his or her guidelines.

What to Do

If you have symptoms of TIA, get immediate medical attention.

To prevent TIA:

  • Don't smoke
  • Eat a heart healthy diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation

What We Have Learned

  1. A transient ischemic attack is also called a mini stroke.
    True or False
    The Answer is True
  2. Some symptoms of a TIA include having trouble walking or having trouble speaking clearly.
    True or False
    The Answer is True
  3. If you have symptoms of a TIA, you should just wait for them to go away.
    True or False
    The Answer is False. You should seek treatment immediately.