What is a transient ischemic attack?
Transient ischemic attacks (TIA) occur when blood flow to part of the brain stops for a short period of time. Unlike a cerebral vascular accident (CVA), a TIA lasts for a few hours and does not cause brain tissue damage. Unlike with a stroke where the blood flow remains blocked, causing brain damage. However, due the similar nature strokes and TIA, some people refer to TIA as ‘mini-strokes’, and often having a TIA can be a sign that you could later experience and actual stroke.
What are the symptoms of transient ischemic attacks?
The symptoms of TIA are the same as a stroke, but just for a short period of time. Symptoms are:
- Vision changes
- Feeling unstable
- Difficulty reading or talking
- An inability to recognise objects or people
- Loss of balance and coordination
- Numbness, weakness or tingling in one side of your face, arm or leg, usually experienced on just one side of your body.
What causes transient ischemic attacks?
The loss of blood flow to the brain is most often caused by a blood clot in a cerebral artery. TIAs can also be caused by a very sudden drop in blood pressure, which results in reduced blood flow to the brain, however, this is a much rarer cause. Another rare cause is bleeding in the brain (haemorrhage) which can result in a TIA.
There are also risk factors that make certain groups of people more susceptible to TIAs:
- People aged over 60
- People of south Asian, African or Caribbean descent have a higher TIA risk, due partly to the higher rates of high blood pressure in these groups.
- Other pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, can increase TIA risk.
- Overweight people are more at risk and people with a high fat, high salt diet.
- Smokers and heavy drinkers have a higher TIA risk.
Can transient ischemic attacks be prevented?
To a large extent, TIAs are preventable. There are numerous lifestyle changes that can help reduce TIA risk:
- No smoking
- Limited alcohol consumption
- Staying a healthy weight
- Exercising frequently
- Managing high blood pressure, if applicable.
- Managing diabetes, if applicable.
- Eating a healthy diet that is lower in transgenic fats, cholesterol and salt.
How are transient ischemia attacks treated?
If the symptoms of a TIA are experienced, it is important to see a specialist as soon as possible, due to the chances of stroke. Treatment is based on controlling, preventing and treating the consequences of the TIA. At present, there is a medication, called "tissue Plasminogen Activator” (tPA), which allows the dissolution of clots and stops a stroke in-progress. This reduces the risk of brain damage occurring, since it eliminates the clot that is blocking the blood flow to the brain.
Surgery is also an option and is called a carotid endarterectomy. During this procedure, fatty deposits in the carotid arteries (the arteries that deliver blood to the brain) that are blocking the flow of blood are unblocked.