Symptoms, causes, and treatment of transient ischemic attack (TIA)

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a ministroke, happens when the brain’s blood supply is interrupted for a short period of time.

Although the diminished blood flow normally only lasts 5 minutes, a TIA is still a medical emergency. It could be a precursor to a massive stroke.

Because the symptoms of a TIA resolve fast, many people do not seek medical care. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of people who don’t get treatment for a TIA will have a severe stroke within a year.

According to statistics, 20% of persons who have a TIA will have a stroke within three months, and half of these will happen within two days of the TIA.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of a TIA and seeking care as soon as possible can help you avoid a more serious and perhaps life-threatening incident.

In this article, you’ll learn more about what a TIA entails and what to do if one arises.

What is a TIA?

transient ischemic attack (TIA)

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) has symptoms that are similar to those of a stroke, but it causes only a few minutes. The decreased blood flow normally only lasts a few seconds, but the symptoms can last for several minutes. They can last for a few hours on rare occasions.

TIAs occur when a blood clot stops blood flow to the brain cells for a brief period of time, preventing oxygen from reaching the cells. The symptoms usually go away when the clot breaks up or moves on. These events do not stay long enough to cause brain cells permanently.

People should not dismiss a TIA since it could be an indication of a big stroke, according to the American Stroke Association.

According to statistics, TIAs afflict about 2% of the population in the United States.

Causes

When the supply of oxygen to the brain is interrupted, a TIA ensues. This could be as a result of:

  • atherosclerosis, in which fatty deposits cause the arteries to become harder, thicker, narrower, and less flexible
  • blood clots due to heart disease, cardiovascular disease, or an irregular heart rhythm
  • blood clots due to a blood condition, such as sickle cell disease
  • an embolism or blood clot that has traveled from elsewhere in the body
  • an air bubble in the bloodstream

Symptoms

The symptoms of a TIA are determined by which area of the brain isn’t getting enough blood.

The acronym FAST (facial, arms, speech, time) might help people recall the symptoms to look for, just as it can with a severe stroke:

  • F = face: The eye or mouth may droop on one side, and the person may be unable to smile properly.
  • A = arms: Arm weakness or numbness might make it hard to raise one or both arms or keep them raised.
  • S = speech: The person’s speech may be slurred and garbled.
  • T = time: Someone should call the emergency services at once if a person has one or more of these symptoms.

The person may also have:

  • numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body
  • sudden confusion
  • difficulty understanding what others are talking about
  • vision problems
  • dizziness
  • problems with coordination
  • difficulty walking
  • a very bad headache
  • a loss of consciousness, in some cases

TIA symptoms are only present for a short time. They can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, and they normally go away after 24 hours.

However, if anyone experiences symptoms that could signal a TIA, they should seek medical care right away because a massive stroke could result.

The same variables that cause temporary blood flow insufficiency in a TIA can cause a stroke, which can result in irreversible brain damage owing to a longer-lasting blood flow deficit.

Conditions with symptoms that are similar

A TIA’s symptoms can be similar to those of other diseases, such as:

Even if the symptoms of the TIA have subsided, getting an accurate diagnosis can assist a person get the proper treatment to help minimise the risk of a future stroke.

  • having a family history of stroke or TIA
  • being 55 years or above
  • being assigned male at birth
  • being Black or Hispanic, compared with being non-Hispanic white
  • having high blood pressure
  • having cardiovascular disease
  • smoking tobacco
  • having diabetes
  • getting low levels of exercise
  • having high cholesterol levels
  • eating a diet that is high in unhealthy fats and salt
  • having high homocysteine levels
  • having overweight or obesity
  • having a type of heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation

Treatment

Treatment options will be determined by the cause of the TIA. The parts that follow will go over some of the possibilities.

Medications

A doctor may recommend medicine to reduce the risk of a second blood clot and catastrophic stroke.

The treatment options will vary depending on the cause of the TIA, however they usually include:

  • anti-platelet drugs to prevent clotting, such as include aspirin, ticlopidine (Ticlid), and clopidogrel (Plavix)
  • anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin) and heparin, which also help prevent clotting
  • medications to manage high blood pressure, or hypertension
  • drugs to help manage cholesterol levels
  • medications to manage heart disease and regulate irregular heart rhythms

All of these medications can cause side effects and may interact with other medications.

As a result, people should tell their doctor about any other prescriptions they’re taking, including over-the-counter drugs, supplements, and herbal therapies.

If a person has negative side effects while taking a medication, they should consult a doctor. It’s possible that another option exists.

Surgery

A doctor may propose surgery to remove a blockage or a portion of a damaged artery in some instances.

Preventive actions and lifestyle changes

A risk of lifestyle changes can help minimise your chances of having a TIA or stroke. These are some of them:

  • avoiding or quitting smoking
  • avoiding exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke
  • eating a nutritious and varied diet, with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • managing one’s intake of salt and unhealthy fats
  • getting regular exercise
  • avoiding the use of recreational drugs
  • managing body weight, if appropriate
  • following any treatment plan for heart disease, diabetes, or other conditions

Before making any major lifestyle changes, such as beginning a new workout plan, it is best to consult with a healthcare practitioner to determine the best course of action.

Diagnosis

Anyone who has signs or symptoms of a TIA should seek medical help right away to figure out why it happened and how to avoid a recurrence or a more serious occurrence.

Symptoms can fade fast, and by the time the person sees a doctor, they may be gone. A witness who was present at the time, on the other hand, may be able to assist the individual in explaining the situation to the doctor.

The doctor will likely:

  • ask what happened and ask about any ongoing symptoms
  • ask how long the symptoms lasted for and how they affected the person
  • consider the individual’s personal and family medical history
  • carry out a neurological examination, which may include memory and coordination tests

If the doctor suspects the patient suffered a TIA, he or she may be referred to a neurologist for further evaluation.

The following are some examples of possible tests:

  • blood tests to check blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and clotting ability
  • an electrocardiogram to measure the electrical activity and rhythms of the heart
  • an echocardiogram to check the pumping action of the heart
  • a chest X-ray to help rule out other conditions
  • CT scan to reveal any signs of an aneurysm, bleeding, or changes to blood vessels in the brain
  • an MRI scan to help identify damage to the brain

The doctor may also request that the patient wear a Holter monitor for a few days or weeks in order to track their heart rhythms over time.

Conclusion

The symptoms of a TIA can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. However, it is critical to seek medical help because a TIA can be a symptom of a massive stroke.

A TIA is marked by weakness and numbness on one side of the body, facial drooping on one side, and difficulty speaking. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, call 911 right away.

Following a TIA, lifestyle changes and the use of medicine to lower the risk of future blood clots are two choices for treatment.

Sources:

  • http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/strokeaha/45/7/2160.full.pdf
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4832890/
  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/transient-ischaemic-attack-tia/
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/164038
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459143/
  • https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/stroke
  • https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/stroke-symptoms
  • https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/types-of-stroke/tia-transient-ischemic-attack
  • https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/types_of_stroke.htm