In honor of Stroke Awareness Month, we are continuing our discussion to further increase awareness on strokes! If you missed last week’s article, check out Stroke Symptoms: How to Identify the Warning Signs of Stroke FAST.

To briefly review, strokes occur when there is an interruption of blood supply to an area of the brain. This can occur in one of two ways. One way, is if there is a blood clot that is narrowing a blood vessel leading to the brain. This is the most common and it is referred to as an ischemic stroke. The second way, is if there is a blood vessel that breaks or bursts that is carrying blood to a part of the brain. This is referred to as a hemorrhagic stroke, which is the least common and generally occurs when there is a trauma of some kind.

The National Stroke Association developed the acronym F.A.S.T. to be able to quickly identify if a stroke is occurring. Depending on how quickly a stroke is treated, determines how much of an impact the stroke may have on the person’s life. Symptoms cannot be ignored, even if they go away, which leads us to the next part of the discussion.

What is a TIA?

I’m sure we have all heard at one point the term “mini stroke.” In actuality that term is not accurate. A mini stroke is not mini at all. The term mini stroke is sometimes used when a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) occurs. A TIA is a type of an ischemic stroke, where the effects are “transient” or temporary. These temporary stroke symptoms are caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain. Since the symptoms don’t continue, it is easy to second guess yourself and perhaps blame it on something else. Many will ignore it or think that they can just talk to their physician about it at their next appointment. This is a huge mistake. TIAs are usually a signal that a full-blown stroke is dangerously close ahead. According to a recent study by the American Heart Association, 10 to 15% of patients have a stroke within 3 months of having a TIA, with half occurring within 48 hours of a TIA. This means if your loved one has a TIA on a Friday, you do not have time to wait to schedule an appointment for Monday. If you or your loved one is having symptoms, go seek treatment immediately.

TIAs fortunately do not cause permanent damage. The body will fight back by utilizing the natural clot-dissolvers produced by the body, known as anticoagulants. Therefore, the blockage is not there long enough to cause any lasting damage. So why the rush to seek immediate care then?

TIA Statistics

According to the American Stroke Association, 240,000 Americans experience a TIA every year. Up to 25% of people who suffer a TIA die within one year. About one-third of people who have a TIA go on to have a more severe stroke within one year. When reading these statistics, it can certainly stir up some anxiety. However, we can look at it as a chance to become knowledgeable and informed. When we see symptoms, we take it seriously and act F.A.S.T. It is always better to be safe than sorry. A TIA is definitely considered to be an emergency.

Symptoms

Most signs and symptoms of a TIA will disappear within about an hour. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Slurred or garbled speech
  • Double vision or blindness in one or both eyes
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, usually on one side of the body
  • A sudden severe headache, that is different from past headaches and has no known cause

The symptoms closely resemble those found in the beginning onset of a stroke, so there is no way of differentiating between a TIA and a full-blown stroke in the moment. If you wait to see if the symptoms resolve, it will be too late to act.

Causes of TIA

According to the Mayo clinic, the underlying cause of a TIA is usually a buildup of cholesterol-containing fatty deposits called plaques. The plaque will buildup in an artery or one of the branches that supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain, which can then decrease the blood flow through the artery or lead to a formation of a clot.

Who is Most Likely to Have a TIA?

The same factors that can raise your odds of a stroke can also affect the risk of having a TIA. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are risk factors:

Family Member – Your risk may increase if one of your family members had a TIA or stroke.

Sex – Men’s risk of having a TIA or stroke is a little higher. However, more than half the deaths from strokes happen with women.

Age – Your risk increases as you age, particularly over 55 years old.

Prior TIA – If you have had one or more TIAs, you are ten times more likely to experience a stroke.

Even though you may not be able to control the risk factors that are listed above, it can be motivation to change the aspects of your life that are risk factors you have influence over. Check out last week’s discussion about the risk factors you can control.

As you see your loved one age and all the changes that begin to occur, it can be upsetting and distressing at times. It seems as though everywhere you look, you hear about the latest risk factors or potential problems that can happen in older adults. It is hard to find the balance between taking practical steps toward prevention or management in particular areas, and also not internalizing it all and becoming anxiety-ridden. A lot of people don’t want to be considered an alarmist. You may hear your loved one say “Oh I don’t want to bother you with this or make a fuss about that.” However, when dealing with your brain, that is the time to set those concerns aside and take it seriously.

Next week we will be discussing the various treatment options for strokes and how to know the right place to go for treatment.

In conclusion, if you are having symptoms of what could possibly be a stroke or a TIA, please don’t hesitate to call 911. TIAs can be seen as a blessing in disguise; an opportunity to prevent a full-blown stroke.