They’re called mini-strokes, but transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs, are often a sign of bigger things to come. Of those people who’ve had one or more TIAs, more than a third will later have a full-blown stroke, according to the American Heart Association, and about half of the strokes occur within a year of the TIA.
Learning about TIAs, and knowing what symptoms to look for and how to respond, are the first steps in helping prevent a major stroke down the road. Here’s what you need to know about these important stroke predictors.
Starting in the same manner as a stroke, a TIA occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery, depriving the brain of blood. However, the blockage is only temporary and doesn’t lead to the same kind of damage as a stroke. That said, TIAs are still treated as medical emergencies.
Just like with a stroke, the symptoms come on suddenly: numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, particularly on one side of the body; confusion, speech and comprehension problems; vision problems; trouble walking, dizziness or balance and coordination problems; and severe headache. Unlike stroke, though, the symptoms usually last less than five minutes.
A family history of a TIA or stroke, being 55 or older, being a man and being African-American are risk factors you can’t control.
But ones you can change include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, eating too much fat and salt, obesity, heavy drinking and using illegal drugs. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, peripheral artery disease and carotid artery disease also put you at a greater stroke risk. So work with your healthcare provider to manage these conditions.
Because the symptoms for a TIA are the same as for a stroke, and you don’t know which you may be having at first, get help right away. A healthcare provider can not only determine whether you’ve had a stroke or TIA, but whether you’re actually experiencing symptoms of another medical condition, such as a seizure or heart problems.
If you’ve had a TIA, your doctor can advise you about lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of stroke, such as heart-healthy eating, quitting smoking, exercising and managing high blood pressure and high cholesterol. A University of Oxford study showed that three out of 10 people didn’t seek immediate help for their TIA, which means they didn’t get the help they needed, increasing their risk for a full-blown stroke later on.