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Donna Mae Scheib

Signs Of A Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) And Recovery Tips

Posted by Donna Mae Scheib on March 04, 2020

Signs Of A Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) And Recovery Tips

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is also commonly known as a mini-stroke because it is a temporary experience of stroke-like symptoms. TIAs also share the same causes as strokes, namely a blockage of blood supply to the brain, and are often a sign that an actual stroke may occur. TIA symptoms last anywhere from a few minutes to 24 hours and do not kill brain cells as strokes do; however, the two can be virtually indistinguishable until after the fact. Since seniors face an increased risk of TIAs and potentially strokes afterward, this article will explain how to recognize the signs, recognize the risks, and prepare to handle TIAs before and after they occur.

TIA Signs, Symptoms, and Causes

Roughly 1 in 3 people who experience a TIA will later have a stroke, half of them within the same year, making it important to recognize the signs. While TIA symptoms can last up to 24 hours as mentioned, TIAs themselves only last a few minutes and symptoms usually disappear within one hour –setting them apart from strokes after they end. Many of the signs and symptoms are the same as those of an actual stroke, including:

  • Weakness, paralysis, and/or numbness in the arm, leg, and face muscles –typically only on one side of the body
  • Slurred speech, garbled speech, or the inability to comprehend others’ speech
  • Loss of coordination, loss of balance, or dizziness
  • Double vision or temporary blindness in one or two eyes
  • Severe headaches without any apparent cause

TIAs are warning signs specifically for ischemic strokes, unlike hemorrhagic strokes caused by blood vessels bursting in the brain. Ischemic strokes occur when blood clots block the arteries on the blood’s way to the brain, cutting off oxygen. Clots themselves form when a fatty substance called plaque concentrates throughout the body. The side of your body that feels weaker will depend on which part of the brain experiences the TIA; it is possible to later experience a TIA in a different part of the brain, resulting in different symptoms.

The difference between TIA and stroke ultimately lies in how long the blockage lasts –if your body can push the blockage along before any brain cells can die from a lack of oxygen, it is a TIA. If the blockage lodges for long enough to kill brain cells, it is a stroke. The next section of this article will explain risk factors for clots forming in the first place.

Risk Factors

Many risk factors of TIAs are outside of one’s control. For instance, seniors’ risk of strokes doubles every 10 years after 55 due to increased vulnerability with age. Men have a higher risk of TIAs than women, but women comprise over half of all deaths from strokes. Women’s higher risks often relate to pregnancy, birth control pills, migraines with auras, and hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms. Higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure in the black, South Asian, Caribbean, and Latin American populations also put individuals at higher risks of strokes. Sickle cell anemia, family histories of strokes, and previous experiences of TIAs are also prominent risk factors outside of one’s immediate control.

However, several conditions outside of your immediate control can still become manageable with health choices. High blood pressure (140/90 millimeters of mercury), high cholesterol, diabetes, and overweight or obesity increase the chances of clots forming –but particularly in the absence of proper nutrition and exercise. Other uncontrollable but treatable conditions include cardiovascular disease, peripheral artery disease, carotid artery disease, and high levels of homocysteine (amino acids).

Still, other risk factors come down to lifestyle choices. Smoking contributes to blood clots, blood pressure, and heightened cholesterol due to chemicals altering the body’s metabolism. Heavy drinking also increases the risks of strokes, especially in women. Illicit drugs such as cocaine and medicine such as birth control pills likewise increase risks, as do physical inactivity, poor nutrition (especially involving high levels of fat and salt).

Prevention and Treatment

Because TIAs are often warning signs for fully-fledged strokes, which may occur only hours or days after the TIA, you should seek immediate medical attention after having one. Still, warning signs for TIAs come in the form of risk factors mentioned above –so prevention depends on treating these conditions.

When any of the risk factors outside of your control come into play, seeking treatment for the conditions that compound TIAs will reduce your risks. Addiction can turn many of the aforementioned lifestyle choices into all-but-unmanageable conditions, but treatment still exists and will make a significant difference. For the lifestyle choices of poor exercise and nutrition, it may be sufficient simply to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day and reduce your diet’s levels of cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium. Fruits and vegetables contain folate, potassium, and antioxidants that can reduce TIA and stroke risks. Doctors recommend zero use of cigarettes or illicit drugs, and a limit of one alcoholic drink per day for women and two for men.

Treating a TIA after it occurs involves many of the same measures as prevention. However, doctors may also prescribe medications such as aspirin, blood-thinners, and cholesterol-lowering drugs to reduce immediate stroke risk. Actual strokes have only a short window of time for doctors to administer drugs that will destroy clots. As such, diagnosing a TIA involves monitoring eye motion and facial movement, examining patients’ cognition, and checking the neck, heart, arms, legs, coordination, and balance. After treatment, doctors may continue examining patients’ risks by EKG, CT scans, ultrasound, angiogram, blood tests, and echocardiogram.

Identifying a TIA before a stroke can occur can make a world of difference for seniors’ health. A TIA can be a frightening “close call” that alerts individuals to a potentially fatal problem, so knowing the signs is key to recognizing a real stroke when it occurs. Following the preventative steps will also carry several other benefits into other aspects of your health, allowing you to live healthier and happier into old age.

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