A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a transient stroke that lasts only a few minutes. This is often called a “mini stroke”. This type of stroke was recently brought to light when former Houston Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak suffered a mini stroke during an NFL game this past season. It occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is briefly interrupted. TIA or mini stroke symptoms usually occur suddenly and are similar to those of stroke but do not last as long. Most symptoms disappear within an hour, although they could persist for up to 24 hours. Symptoms can include:
- numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
- confusion or difficulty in talking or understanding speech
- trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- difficulty with walking, dizziness, or loss of balance and coordination
Is there any treatment?
Because there is no way to tell whether symptoms are from a mini stroke or an acute stroke, patients should assume that all stroke-like symptoms signal an emergency and should not wait to see if they go away. A prompt evaluation (within 60 minutes) is necessary to identify the cause of the TIA and determine appropriate therapy. Patients should consult a neurologist following the initial evaluation to discuss drug therapy or surgery options that could be used to reduce the risk of future strokes. The use of antiplatelet medicines, particularly aspirin, is a treatment that may be recommended for patients at risk for stroke. People with atrial fibrillation (irregular beating of the heart) may be prescribed anticoagulants. All medicines and their dosages should be prescribed specifically for the patient by his/her physician.
What can you do?
TIAs are often warning signs that a person is at risk for a more serious and debilitating stroke. About one-third of those who have a TIA will have an acute stroke some time in the future. Many strokes can be prevented by heeding the warning signs of TIAs and treating underlying risk factors.
The most important treatable factors linked to TIAs and stroke are high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, heart disease, carotid artery disease, diabetes, and heavy use of alcohol. Medical help is available to reduce and eliminate these factors. Lifestyle changes such as eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and enrolling in smoking and alcohol cessation programs can also reduce these factors.