What is a TIA and What Should You Do When Someone Has One?

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What would you say if we told you that the fourth leading cause of death in America is preventable about 80 percent of the time?

Not bad odds, eh?

Despite this, stroke still kills about 130,000 people each year, and is a leading cause of serious, long-term adult disability. As with so many critical health events, the best key to avoiding stroke is prevention.

The National Stroke Association divides the risk factors for stroke into two categories: Controllable and Uncontrollable. They are:

Controllable Risk Factors:

High Blood Pressure

Atrial Fibrillation

High Cholesterol



Circulation Problems

Tobacco Use and Smoking

Alcohol Use

Physical Inactivity


Uncontrollable Risk Factors:

Age: persons 55 and older are more at risk but stroke can happen to anyone at any time.

Gender: approximately 55,000 more women than men have a stroke each year.

Race: African Americans have almost twice the risk of first-ever stroke compared with whites and  Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders are more likely than whites to have a stroke as well.

Family History

Previous Stroke or TIA

Fibromuscular Dysplasia

Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO or Hole in the Heart)

As you can see, the controllable factors mostly boil down to making positive health choices, such as those outlined by the American Stroke Association, and treating existing medical conditions.

But one of the factors listed as uncontrollable: a previous stroke or transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is also one of the most certain harbingers of an oncoming stroke and is something to which close attention should be paid.

Up to 40 percent of all people who have experienced a TIA – often referred to as a mini-stroke --will go on to have an actual stroke. Furthermore, most studies show that nearly half of all strokes occur within the first two days after a TIA.

The risk factors for TIA are pretty much identical to the risk factors for stroke, and, as with stroke, sometimes the symptoms occur so quickly that people don’t even realize they’ve had one:

Someone having a TIA (or a stroke) may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness loss of balance or coordination

With TIA, the symptoms usually last less than 24 hours before disappearing. Still, while these mini-strokes generally do not cause permanent brain damage, they are a serious warning sign of stroke and should not be ignored.

If you suspect that you or someone you are with is having a TIA, you should call 9-1-1 immediately. Every moment counts, and the faster a stroke or TIA victim is evaluated and treated, the better their chance to avoid serious damage or future stroke.

Work with your physician on an appropriate treatment plan for you. Generally speaking, after a transient ischemic attack, the American Heart Association and National Stroke Association offer these recommendations for preventing future stroke:

  • rapid evaluation, preferably within 12 hours of the onset of symptoms
  • access to same-day diagnostic imaging
  • aggressive attention to blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, and other conditions
  • control of risk factors such as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity
  • use of aspirin, aspirin plus extended-release dipyridamole (Aggrenox), or clopidogrel (Plavix) to prevent the formation of further blood clots
  • surgery (carotid endarterectomy) or endovascular therapy (angioplasty with or without a stent) to open a narrowed or blocked carotid artery.

TIA is extremely serious and should be taken seriously. However, with proper diagnosis and treatment, it may be just the warning sign you need to prevent or limit the damage of future stroke.

For more information about the well-being of seniors, or to arrange for the services of a trained CAREGiver for a senior in your life, please contact Home Instead Senior Care of Central Oregon at 541-330-6400.


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