What Is Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)?
It's similar to a stoke. Your blood delivers oxygen to every part of your body. Your cells need it to survive. If your blood flow gets blocked anywhere, one of the many issues that can happen is a TIA.
When you have a TIA, the flow of blood to part of your brain gets cut off for a short time. It's also called a ministroke, but don't let the "mini" part fool you. A TIA can be a sign that a full-blown stroke is on the way. About 1 in 3 people who have a TIA go on to have a stroke, often within a year.
The symptoms of a TIA can happen suddenly. They're similar to early stroke symptoms. They include:
Droopy face. Your eyes or mouth may droop on one side. You may also have trouble smiling.
Speaking problems. Your speech may be slurred, garbled, or hard to understand. It might be difficult to find the right words.
Weak or numb arms. You may have trouble lifting and holding up both arms.
Those are the clearest red flags, but you may also notice:
- Balance and coordination problems
- Blindness or blurred vision in one or both eyes
- Not being able to move one side of your body
- Confusion and a hard time understanding others
- A sudden, severe headache
- Trouble swallowing
You can have more than one TIA. Each TIA can have different symptoms, based on which part of your brain is affected.
After a TIA, you might notice some long-term effects. Since these could affect your work or other daily activities, you may want to tell your employer and loved ones about it.
TIA lasting affects can include:
Fatigue. You can get very tired after a TIA. Fatigue is when your sleepiness is extreme but doesn't get better with rest.
Emotional shifts. After you have a TIA, you might feel shocked or anxious about your well-being. It's important to talk to your friends and family about your anxiety, to help your overall mood. Sharing your feelings can help others better understand what you're going through. Regular exercise can also help get rid of some tension and boost your energy.
A need to focus more on your health. It's important to follow treatment advice from your doctor. You can choose healthy lifestyle habits. Eat healthy meals, quit smoking, and be more active. All of these things can help lower your risk of a stroke.
If you continue to have physical, memory, or thinking troubles after a TIA, talk to your doctor.
That's why you get symptoms like muscle weakness or slurred speech with a TIA. It's like having a clogged fuel line in your car. Your engine can't run if it's not getting gas.
Clots form when you have a buildup of a fatty, waxy substance called plaque in your arteries. They can take shape anywhere in your body, and float along until they get stuck somewhere. If that "somewhere" happens to be an artery that goes to your brain, you can have a TIA.
You can also get a TIA if there's so much plaque in an artery that it severely limits blood flow to your brain, just like a clot.
If you have symptoms of a TIA, it's important to see your doctor right away. A quick diagnosis is important, as it helps figure out what caused your TIA. It also allows your doctor to treat it properly.
Your doctor might use:
Physical and neurological exams. They'll test your vision, eye movement, speech, language, reflexes, strength, and sensory system. They might also listen to your carotid artery system through a stethoscope.
They might look for other stroke risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, or high homocysteine.
Computerized tomography (CT) or computerized tomography angiography (CTA) scans. These help your doctor look at your brain, and at the arteries in your neck and brain.
Carotid ultrasonography. If your doctor thinks your carotid artery caused your TIA, they'll use this tool to look closely at any narrowing or clotting in your neck.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or magnetic resonance angiography (MRA). These help your doctor check your brain, arteries, and neck.
Echocardiography. This tool allows your doctor to look clearly at possible causes, like blood clots, through an ultrasound image.
Arteriography. This helps your doctor look at arteries in your brain that usually aren't seen on an X-ray.
There are many ways to lower your risk of a stroke after a TIA. Your doctor will decide which is a best for you, based on your TIA type, cause, location, how serious it was, and findings on an MRI or CT scan. Immediate treatments include:
- Anti-platelet drugs, like acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) or clopidogrel (Plavix)
- Anticoagulant drugs, like warfarin (Jantoven)
Surgery is another treatment for a TIA. If one of the carotid arteries in your neck is narrowed or blocked, you may need surgery to help clear it out and restore normal blood flow. One option is an operation called a carotid endarterectomy, where your doctor opens up your carotid artery, scrapes out the plaque, and closes it back up.
Another choice is a procedure called carotid angioplasty and stenting. Your doctor makes a small opening in your groin. They'll use a balloon-like device to widen your carotid artery, then put in a small wire tube, called a stent, to keep it open. They then remove the balloon.
To prevent a TIA, make these healthy lifestyle choices:
Eat food that's good for you. Choose whole foods, meaning those that are as natural and unprocessed as possible. Also eat a low-fat, low-salt, high-fiber diet with plenty of fruits and veggies. Limit saturated fats and sugar , and avoid trans fats.
Get a good night's sleep. Regular shut-eye can lower your risk of a stroke. Create a routine to relax at night and get to bed at a reasonable time.
Limit alcohol. If you drink, keep it to one drink a day if you're female, or two if you're male.
Along with other lifestyle changes, if you're a biological woman, you should take a few more steps to avoid a TIA or stroke. For instance, if you're over age 75, ask your doctor to check you for atrial fibrillation.
If you're pregnant, have your blood pressure checked regularly during and after pregnancy.
If you think you might start birth control pills, get checked for high blood pressure first.
TIA vs. Stroke
TIAs are similar to ischemic strokes, which are also caused by blood clots.
The main difference is that a TIA only lasts a few minutes. The clot then gets pushed along, like a temporary clog in a pipe, or chemicals in your body quickly break it down. Normal blood flow returns to your brain before lasting problems set in. Symptoms can last for up to 24 hours, but they're usually gone in an hour.
Strokes, on the other hand, don't go away so quickly. That means some part of your brain goes without oxygen, and the longer that lasts, the more damage happens. While a TIA comes on, goes away, and leaves no symptoms, a stroke can have long-lasting effects and can be life-threatening.
TIA Risk Factors
A TIA can affect anyone. The same things that raise your odds of a stroke also affect your risk of a TIA, and there are a lot of issues in play.
Risks you can't control. Some things you can't change, but it's helpful to be aware of them:
- Age. The odds of a TIA or stroke get much higher when you're over 55. After age 55, your risk for having a stroke doubles every 10 years.
- Family history. If one of your grandparents, parents, or a brother or sister had a stroke, you have a greater chance of getting a TIA.
- Previous TIA. Once you've had one, you're much more likely to get another.
- Race. African American people, as well as people who belong to South Asian and Caribbean ethnic groups, have a higher chance of a TIA than others.
- Gender. Women have a greater risk of strokes and TIAs than men.
Health conditions. Other medical problems you have can also increase the odds of a TIA, including:
- Being overweight
- Carotid artery disease, where the main arteries from your heart to your brain are narrowed or clogged
- Heart disease, including heart defects and rhythm problems like atrial fibrillation (AFib)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD), where arteries in your arms or legs get blocked
- Sickle cell disease, a genetic condition where misshaped blood cells can get wedged in arteries more easily
Lifestyle. Some of the choices you make every day may affect your chances of having a TIA. You may have a higher risk if you:
- Drink a lot of alcohol
- Don't get enough exercise
- Eat too many foods high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats, and not enough fruits, veggies, and fiber
- Use drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin
Risks for women. Odds of a TIA may be higher for women who: