What is a Tia or Transient Ischemic Attack

What is TIA?

TIA stands for Transient Ischemic Attack and is similar to a stroke in its presentation but differs from it in several important aspects. As the name suggests, TIA is transient or a thing that does not last. It will be relieved usually within 24 hours from the onset and would not cause permanent damage to the brain cells as in a stroke. Even though the attack does not leave behind any permanent damage, it will pose a danger sign for the patients as they are now having a 1/3 risk of developing a stroke within the next year.

How does it occur?

The TIA is the result of an occlusion of a blood vessel supplying a certain area of the brain for a short duration of time. The occlusion could be the result of a dislodged blood clot from certain areas of the circulatory system, most probably from main arteries. The deprivation of blood supply will result in temporary dysfunction of those affected cells and generally would not last for more than 5 minutes and it is said that the average is usually 1 minute.

What are the symptoms of a TIA?

These patients will show signs similar to a stroke and could be one or many from the following.

1. Numbness and weakness of an arm, leg, face, hand, feet or even one side of the body

2. Difficulty in speaking, comprehending or confusion

3. Sudden loss of visibility in one or both eyes

4. Inability to walk

5. feeling of dizziness

6. loss of balance

7. Severe headache

Each patient can demonstrate several of these symptoms and range from very mild numbness to a severe neurological deficit.

How does the symptoms progress?

The progression of these symptoms will be very dramatic. The condition will be initiated suddenly and unexpectedly causing much anxiety to the patient as well as the loved ones. The important thing in the acute stage is the inability to predict whether it is a transient ischemic event or a full blown stroke. Thus, seeking urgent medical attention is a must at this stage.

The recovery from the symptoms will also be dramatic similar to its onset. The lost functions will be regained to the fullest in most instances within the first few hours or at least within 24 hours. The returned function will be full and there should not be any deficit after 24 hours.

What to expect at the emergency department:

At the emergency department the doctors will assess the patient and decide on appropriate treatment depending on their clinical judgement as well as based on investigative findings. A patient will be benefited by initiating drugs which will prevent the blood from getting clotted. These drugs can be aspirin, anti-platelet drugs or even anticoagulants such as warferin according to an underlying condition.

Several investigations would follow and some of them would be ECG, Brain CT, Doppler studies of the carotid arteries, 2D Echo, Holter monitoring…etc.

How to avert a major stroke?

Following a TIA, these patients need to take the warning sign seriously and consider it as a second chance to live a quality life. Therefore, they must adhere to healthy living practices and take the prescribed medications continuously to avert a major stroke. Some of these lifestyle modifications would be,

1. Avoid smoking

2. Reducing the fat intake and thus the cholesterol levels

3. Engage in exercises

4. Eat a healthy diet and control the blood sugar levels

5. Prevent the blood pressure from rising to extremes

6. Reduce stressors associated with the daily living

If the warning signs are taken in appropriately, the TIA can be used as an opportunity to prevent a major stroke though all strokes would not be preceded by a TIA.