Transient ischemic attacks, known as TIAs, often appear in the hours or days preceding a stroke. They act as a warning, allowing many people to receive treatment before a stroke can occur. Our team of neurologists are able to identify if you’ve had a TIA and help you develop a plan to prevent future strokes.
TIAs, often referred to as mini-strokes, occur when your brain experiences a temporary drop in its blood supply, often as the result of a brief blockage due to a blood clot. They typically last a few minutes and don’t result in permanent brain damage.
The underlying cause of a TIA is a buildup of plaque along the walls of an artery. Plaques can grow until they block blood flow or a piece of plaque may break off from somewhere else in your body and travel to your brain.
A TIA is a major red flag signalling an impending stroke. If you believe you’ve had a TIA, it is critical that you schedule an evaluation to develop a plan for moving forward.
TIA symptoms usually disappear within an hour. They can range in severity, with some being barely noticeable while others appear suddenly and strongly. A TIA may cause the following symptoms:
Treatment plans for TIA usually include medications to lower your risk of future strokes combined with surgery to remove the buildup of plaque from your arteries. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to dissolve existing blood clots and prevent future ones from forming.
Individuals who have experienced a TIA are at a higher risk of having a subsequent stroke. While it’s not possible to guarantee prevention, there are vital steps to take that can significantly lower the risk. Recognizing the increased risk and making necessary lifestyle and medical changes is of paramount importance. These include:
Consultation: Seek immediate medical attention after a TIA.
Medication: Adhere to prescribed medications, especially blood thinners or antihypertensive drugs.
Lifestyle: Adopt a heart-healthy diet, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight.
Limit alcohol and caffeine: Excessive consumption can elevate stroke risk.
Quit Smoking: Smoking is a major risk factor for stroke.
Manage Underlying Conditions: Ensure conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure are controlled.
Although TIA symptoms are temporary and can resolve within hours, the timing of the evaluation, particularly an MRI, after a TIA is crucial. The sooner an MRI is done after the onset of symptoms, the more accurate it can be in capturing the changes in the brain. For instance, an MRI done within 24 hours of symptom onset is more likely to detect the affected area than one done 90 days later. This underscores the importance of seeking immediate medical attention after a TIA.
Because it can manifest with various symptoms, a TIA may feel different for each person.
TIA symptoms can differ widely based on which part of the brain is impacted, too. Some might even resemble other neurological conditions like migraines, minor seizures, or the sensations experienced with low blood sugar. Some things you might feel in the event of a TIA include sudden numbness or weakness, dizziness, loss of balance, or a sudden and unexplained severe headache.
The warning signs of a TIA are essentially the same as a stroke, but they are transitory, meaning they don’t last. The term “transient ischemic” refers to the temporary and short-lived nature of the episode. This is why TIAs are sometimes termed “mini-strokes” or “warning strokes.” Key warning signs include:
Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg.
Immediate confusion or difficulty understanding.
Abrupt trouble speaking or slurred speech.
Sudden vision problems in one or both eyes.
Swift onset of dizziness or loss of balance.
A sudden severe headache without a known cause.
The symptoms of a TIA can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, but they typically resolve within 24 hours. Due to its brief duration and resemblance to a stroke, a TIA is often referred to as a “mini-stroke.” Even if the symptoms dissipate, seeking medical attention is essential, as a TIA may signal a potential future stroke.
While a TIA may not always produce lasting changes detectable by an MRI, the timing of the MRI is crucial. An MRI performed shortly after the TIA symptoms present is more likely to identify any relevant brain changes than one conducted much later. MRIs are also essential for eliminating any other causes of the symptoms experienced, like traumatic brain injury or a stroke. In all cases, getting these tests done promptly is vital to aid in accurate diagnosis and subsequent treatment.