Transient ischemic attacks/TIA

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), also called a ministroke or warning stroke, causes symptoms similar to those of a stroke. The difference is that TIAs don’t cause permanent brain damage, and they usually last less than one hour but can last up to 24 hours. Approximately one-third of people will suffer a stroke in the year following a TIA.

TIAs happen when a blood clot or artery spasm suddenly blocks or closes off an artery briefly. This stops blood from reaching a part of the brain for a short period of time. Different parts of the brain do different things, so TIA symptoms depend on what part of the brain is affected. For example, a person can have weakness in his or her arm without the real problem being in the arm. The problem can be a lack of blood flow to the part of the brain that is responsible for arm strength.

Here are symptoms to watch for:

  • Sudden numbness in your face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion
  • Sudden trouble seeing, talking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble with balance or walking
  • Sudden dizziness or loss of coordination
  • Sudden severe headache you can’t explain
  • Loss of consciousness or seizure

If you suspect you are having a TIA, get medical help immediately. Recognizing symptoms of a TIA and seeking immediate treatment will reduce the risk of a major stroke.

Treatments

You may be placed on medication after a TIA. This is to reduce risk of stroke.

Prevention

  • Take your medications exactly as directed. Don’t skip doses.
  • Learn to take your blood pressure. Keep a log for your doctor.
  • Change your diet if your doctor tells you to. Your doctor may suggest that you cut back on salt. If so, here are some tips:
    • Limit canned, dried, packaged, and fast foods.
    • Don’t add salt to your food at the table.
    • Season foods with herbs instead of salt when you cook.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Get help to lose any extra pounds.
  • Begin an exercise program. Ask your doctor how to get started. You can benefit from simple activities, such as walking or gardening.
  • Limit your alcohol intake to no more than 2 drinks a day.
  • Know your cholesterol level. Follow your doctor’s advice about how to keep cholesterol under control.
  • If you are a smoker, you need to quit now. Enroll in a stop-smoking program to improve your chances of success. Ask your doctor about medications or other methods to help you quit.
  • Your health care provider will give you information on dietary changes that you may need to make, based on your situation. Your provider may recommend that you see a registered dietitian for help with diet changes. Changes may include:
    • Reducing fat and cholesterol intake
    • Reducing sodium (salt) intake, especially if you have high blood pressure
    • Increasing your intake of fresh vegetables and fruits
    • Eating lean proteins, such as fish, poultry, and legumes (beans and peas) and eating less red meat and processed meats
    • Using low-fat dairy products
    • Using vegetable and nut oils in limited amounts
    • Limiting sweets and processed foods such as chips, cookies, and baked goods
  • If you are overweight, your health care provider will work with you to lose weight and lower your body mass index (BMI) to a normal or near-normal level. Making diet changes and increasing physical activity can help.
  • Learn stress-management techniques to help you deal with stress in your home and work life.
Follow-up care
Some medications require blood tests to check for progress or problems. Keep follow-up appointments for any blood tests ordered by your doctors.
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