TIA: It's an Emergency

1 in 20 With TIA Suffers Stroke Within 1 Week

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 12, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 12, 2007 -- One in 20 people who suffers a transient ischemic attack -- TIA -- has a stroke within seven days, a new study confirms.

TIAs are like strokes except for one thing -- people fully recover from TIAs and there is no permanent brain damage. How dangerous are TIAs? Different studies have come up with different answers.

Now Matthew Giles, DPhil, and Peter M. Rothwell, FRCP, of the stroke prevention research unit at the University of Oxford, England, have put all the numbers together. It turns out that different studies have looked at different populations treated in different places in different ways.

But when they lumped all major studies together, Giles and Rothwell find that a person who suffers a TIA has more than a one in 20 risk of having a stroke within one week. That drops to about a one in 100 risk if a person gets emergency care immediately after a TIA.

"The risk is considerable. A TIA is a medical emergency," Giles tells WebMD. "People are not very good at recognizing that what they had is a TIA or minor stroke. And even if they do recognize it correctly, they don't always seek care right away."

Getting immediate care is essential, says Ralph L. Sacco, MD, professor and chairman of neurology at the University of Miami.

"This study and others are telling us that if TIAs are diagnosed and treated quickly, we can make really big differences in outcome," Sacco tells WebMD. "A TIA is to stroke what unstable angina is to heart disease. We need to figure out right away what is wrong and get people on the proper treatment to reduce that risk of stroke -- which is highest in the early days after a TIA."

Rapid medical care after a TIA can reduce the risk of stroke by 80%, says Larry Goldstein, MD, director of the stroke center at Duke University.

"The message we have been putting out is that a TIA is a medical emergency. There is a high risk for going on to a stroke," Goldstein tells WebMD. "At least a third of the time, it turns out that a TIA is a minor stroke with complete resolution of symptoms. We should approach TIA the same way as stroke. So we try to treat them both the same."

The symptoms of a TIA are the same as the symptoms of a stroke. They include:

  • Sudden weakness on one side of the body
  • Inability to move part or all of one side of the body
  • Numbness or tingling on one side of the body
  • Trouble speaking or understanding what others say
  • Dizziness, staggering, or fainting
  • Sudden loss of strength in the legs

Any one of these symptoms may signal a TIA.

The Giles and Rothwell study appears in the early online issue of The Lancet Neurology.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Giles, M.F. and Rothwell, P.M. The Lancet Neurology, early online edition, Nov. 11, 2007. Matthew Giles, DPhil, stroke prevention research unit, University of Oxford, England. Ralph L. Sacco, MD, professor and chairman of neurology, University of Miami. Larry Goldstein, MD director, stroke center, and professor of medicine, Duke University, Durham, N.C.

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