Transient Ischemic Attack in Seniors

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is often referred to as a “warning stroke” or “mini stroke.” These attacks occur because of a temporary interruption of blood flow to the brain. They are often quick and leave no permanent damage, so many victims don’t know that they have suffered a serious medical event.

Unfortunately, patients that have suffered a TIA are at high risk for a full stroke, so immediate medical attention is critical to prevent further complications.

Symptoms of TIA

According to the American Stroke Association, a TIA usually lasts only about five minutes, with symptoms often going away within an hour. This short duration can give TIA victims a false sense of security, so it’s important to know the signs. Victims may suffer one or more symptoms. Symptoms may vary in severity and duration.

Common TIA symptoms are similar to stroke symptoms, and may include:

  • Speech that is slurred or incoherent
  • Difficulty understanding others
  • Vision troubles, including double vision or blindness in one or both eyes
  • Paralysis, numbness, or weakness in the arm, leg, or face, usually on one side of the body
  • Severe headache that occurs suddenly with no obvious cause

TIA Causes and Risk Factors

The interruption of blood flow to the brain that causes a TIA occurs because of clots. These clots are generally formed in other parts of the body and travel to the brain. The temporary nature of a TIA is a result of these clots being dislodged or broken down quickly, with blood flow resuming.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are some TIA risk factors that can’t be controlled and others that can. Family history of strokes, growing older, being male, and the presence of certain hereditary conditions like sickle cell disease increase the risk of TIAs and strokes.

Conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease may also increase the risks of TIAs, but these risks can be mitigated by managing the conditions. Lifestyle factors like smoking, heavy drinking, using birth control pills, and eating a diet that’s low in nutrients also contribute to TIA risks, but risks can be minimized by modifying these behaviors.

TIA Statistics

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that about a third of the patients that suffer from a TIA and don’t seek medical treatment will have a full blown stroke within a year. About 10 to 15 percent will have a stroke within three months. Between seven and 40 percent of patients that suffer from an ischemic stroke report experiencing a TIA first. Strokes are the third leading cause of death for American adults.

Treating TIA and Preventing Strokes

Lifestyle changes that are useful in preventing TIAs are also instrumental in follow-up treatment for TIAs and stroke prevention. Managing blood pressure and blood glucose, improving diet and exercise, and refraining from smoking and drinking alcohol can help to prevent both TIAs and strokes.

Depending on the general health of the patient and the specific causes of the TIA, doctors may also recommend medications or surgery. Anti-platelet drugs and anticoagulants may help to prevent clots from forming. Surgeries like angioplasty or carotid endarterectomy may help to prevent stroke, but can be risky.

Minimizing stroke risk factors and understanding the symptoms of a transient ischemic attack can help patients to live longer, fuller lives.