Managing Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs)

By Akshata Rao Dec 22, 2016

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) also commonly called as a ‘mini-stroke’ is very similar to a stroke but the effects last for less than 24 hours. This happens mainly due to temporary blockage of the blood supply to the brain. In most patients, a TIA is caused by a blood clot that goes and blocks a small artery in the brain and the brain is without oxygen for a few minutes but eventually recovers because the clot either breaks on its own or the nearby arteries are able to compensate. However; whether there is damage depends on how long the clot was in place.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a TIA:

Just like a stroke, the symptoms seen due to a TIA are also sudden in nature. You can remember the symptoms with the word F.A.S.T: Face-Arms-Speech-Time.

Face – drooping of face on one side, the person may not be able to smile.

Arms – the person affected may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there, because of arm weakness or numbness in one arm.

Speech – their speech may be difficult to understand, or the person may not be able to talk at all, despite appearing to be awake.

Time – it is important to seek emergency medical help immediately without wasting anytime, within the ‘golden period’ of 3 hours.

It is very important to be aware of these symptoms especially if there is someone in the family who has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes etc. A TIA is a warning sign that one is at a significantly increased risk of getting a stroke if not managed properly at the right time. By recognizing the symptoms one can get appropriate medical help whether it is timely medication or surgery and rehabilitation.

Who is at risk of getting a TIA?

TIAs causing blood clots typically form in areas where the arteries have been narrowed down or blocked over time due to the build-up of fatty deposits called as ‘plaques’. These plaques are formed during a process called atherosclerosis.

As you get older, the arteries can become narrower naturally, but certain things can increase your chances of having a TIA. Some of these factors are changeable – such as your lifestyle.

  1. High blood pressure (hypertension)
  2. High cholesterol levels
  3. Diabetes
  1. Weight and diet – risks higher if one is overweight or has an unhealthy diet high in fat and salt.
  2. Smoking and alcohol – smoking and/or regularly drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can increase TIA risk.

Management of TIAs:

Initiating early treatment and rehabilitation 

  1. Medical management: Any treatment plan generated should be devised and tailored to the particular need of the patient. This plan should be implemented as soon as possible. If someone has any of the above mentioned medical conditions they should be appropriately managed with medications
  2. Rehabilitation: If a patient develops any symptoms like weakness, difficulty speaking or walking, a tailored made rehabilitation plan is generated by a multi-disciplinary team consisting of physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, specialist nurses and doctors. One or more of these may be required, depending on the symptoms. Good-quality rehabilitation is vital following a stroke and can make a big difference to your eventual outcome.

Prevention:

By managing the risk factors one can prevent or reduce the risk of getting a stroke.

Smoking: One should make every effort to stop because the chemicals in tobacco are carried in your bloodstream and can damage your arteries.

High blood pressure: High blood pressure usually causes no symptoms but can be damaging to the arteries. If you have high blood pressure, treatment of the blood pressure is likely to have the greatest effect on reducing your risk of having a stroke.

If you are overweight, losing some weight is advised.

A high cholesterol level: This can be treated if it is high.

Inactivity: If able, you should aim to do some moderate physical activity on most days of the week for at least 30 minutes. For example, brisk walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, gardening, etc.

Alcohol. Do not drink more than the recommended limits.

Diabetes is a risk factor. If you have diabetes, treatment to keep your blood sugar as near normal as possible is important.

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