Some people call a transient ischemic attack (TIA) a mini-stroke, because the symptoms are like those of a stroke but don't last long. But the term "mini" can be very misleading because it minimizes the potential threat of one of the leading causes of death in the world, says Stroke Neurologist Mauricio Concha, MD, medical director of Sarasota Memorial's Comprehensive Stroke Center.
As with a major stroke, a TIA causes blood flow to part of the brain to stop. But the neurological impact is transient – symptoms typically go away within 10-15 minutes and there’s usually no permanent damage afterward. But that doesn’t mean a TIA is nothing to worry about, Dr. Concha warns.
"A TIA is a warning sign that you’re at increased risk for having a full-blown stroke," he said. "Recent studies show the risk of having a major stroke after a TIA is as high as 10 percent over the next 90 days – and about half of that group will have one within the first 48 hours."
To reduce your risk of stroke and potentially save your life, it s important to know the risk factors, warning signs and what to do if you or someone you love has them. Here are the key steps:
1. Know Your Family History
A good place to start making healthy changes is evaluating your risk. If a close relative has had a stroke—which Giles’ grandmother did—your odds of having one are increased. Your doctor may want you to take extra precautions to reduce your other risk factors.
2. Manage Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is the No. 1 risk factor for a TIA and stroke, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But it’s also a treatable risk factor, Concha says. “If you reduce your blood pressure, you reduce your risk of stroke substantially,” he explains.
Most of the following steps can help keep blood pressure at a healthy level, but regular monitoring of blood pressure—by your doctor, at home or both—is important. If lifestyle changes don’t help, your doctor might prescribe medication.
3. Watch What You Eat
A diet low in fat, cholesterol and sodium and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein can help reduce blood pressure, Concha says. Many experts recommend the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, which focuses on these healthy basics and others, including monitoring portion size and reducing sugar intake.
4. Get Moving
Exercise is another proven way to help maintain a healthy weight and manage blood pressure. If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, Concha says, 30 minutes of physical activity every day is recommended. “If you can’t do that,” he adds, “even 30 minutes every other day has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke.”
5. Manage Related Health Conditions
Obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart rhythm) are risk factors for TIA. Medication often is needed, but diet and exercise also can help manage high cholesterol and diabetes. Regular checkups and screenings are important to stay on track.
6. Quit Smoking
“If you smoke you should stop, because it can reduce your risk of stroke substantially,” Concha says.
There are many programs and strategies to help you kick the habit, which is a smart move for every aspect of your health.
Know the Symptoms and Don’t Delay
As with a stroke, time is of the essence in seeking medical treatment for a transient ischemic attack (TIA). So knowing the symptoms before they happen is essential.
The most common symptoms include sudden onset of:
- Vertigo or dizziness
- Muscle weakness of the face, arm or leg, usually on one side
- Numbness or tingling on one side of the body
- Loss of vision or other vision disturbances
- Trouble speaking, writing or reading
- Confusion or loss of memory
- Difficulty recognizing objects or people
- Changes in senses such as hearing or touch
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
Sarasota Memorial offers the Suncoast region’s only state-certified Comprehensive Stroke Center with the highest level of stroke specialty care. Learn more at smh.com/stroke