Frequently called a ministroke, a transient ischemic attack produces similar symptoms to stroke, but it usually lasts only a few minutes and causes no permanent damage. It may serve as a warning. It is often the case that people who have a transient ischemic attack will eventually have a stroke, with about half occurring within a year after the transient ischemic attack.
A transient ischemic attack can serve as both a warning of an impending stroke and as an opportunity to take steps to prevent it.
Most signs and symptoms disappear within an hour. The signs are:
- Weakness, numbness or paralysis in the face, arm or leg, typically on one side of the body
- Slurred or garbled speech or difficulty understanding others
- Blindness in one or both eyes or double vision
- Dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
In an ischemic stroke, a clot blocks the blood supply to part of the brain. In a transient ischemic attack, unlike a stroke, the blockage is brief, and there is no permanent damage.
The cause of a TIA is often a buildup of cholesterol-containing fatty deposits called plaques (atherosclerosis) in an artery or one of its branches that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Plaques can decrease the blood flow through an artery or lead to the development of a clot. A blood clot moving to an artery that supplies the brain from another part of the body, most commonly from the heart, also may cause a TIA.
Some risk factors for transient ischemic attack and stroke can't be changed. Others can be controlled. You can't change your family history, age, sex, prior transient ischemic attack and stroke, the sickle cell disease or race.
But knowing you are at risk can motivate you to change the lifestyle to reduce other risks. You can take steps to control
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Carotid artery disease.
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD).
- High levels of homocysteine.
- Excess weight.
These lifestyle choices can also put you at risk:
- Cigarette smoking.
- Physical inactivity.
- Poor nutrition.
- Heavy drinking.
- Use of illicit drugs.
- Use of birth control pills.
The complications are significant because approximately half of deaths after stroke are due to medical complications. In the days and weeks after a stroke, clinicians, the patient, and family members can work to decrease the risk of some of these complications. Common complications include the following: blood clots, difficulty eating and drinking, which increases the risk of pneumonia and malnutrition, pneumonia, urinary tract infection, bleeding in the digestive system, falls, heart attack or heart failure, and bed sores.
Knowing the risk factors and living healthfully are the best things you can do to prevent a TIA. Included in a healthy lifestyle are regular medical checkups. Also:
- Limit cholesterol and fat.
- Exercise regularly.
- Don't smoke.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Limit sodium.
- Limit alcohol intake.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Don't use illicit drugs.
- Control diabetes.