What are Transient Ischaemic Attacks, or mini-strokes?

Twitter: @lewisgermain

Transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs) are also known as ‘mini-strokes’. They occur in the same way as full ‘strokes’, with two major differences:

  1. The symptoms and damage are reversible
  2. Both resolve within 24 hours

How do strokes and TIAs occur?

They are most commonly caused by clots travelling up to the brain. These can become lodged in the blood vessels. This means that the blood, and the oxygen in it, can’t reach the brain. This then becomes damaged, producing the symptoms of a stroke or a TIA.

In TIAs, this blockage is only temporary; the body either breaks up the clot or finds another path to get blood to the affected part of the brain. This differs from a full ‘stroke’, in which the body can’t overcome the blockage itself, causing more severe damage.

How can I tell the difference between a TIA and a stroke?

The symptoms of TIAs and strokes are the same. The acronym ‘FAST’ gives us an idea of what they could be:

  • Facial weakness
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech disturbance
  • Time to call 999

It is impossible to tell the difference between a stroke and TIA straight away. Most TIAs resolve within half an hour, but can last up to a day. If symptoms persist after this time, it is defined as a full ‘stroke’.

If the damage is reversible, does it matter?

Yes. TIAs are seen as a warning shot for a full stroke. Doctors use a scoring system to gauge the risk of a stroke within the subsequent 2 days and subsequent 3 months. This scoring system considers:

  • Patient age
  • High blood pressure
  • The symptoms experienced during the TIA
  • How long the TIA lasted
  • If the patient is Diabetic or not

The level of risk then gauges how the doctors manage each case; higher risk patients may need to be monitored in hospital.

How can I reduce my risk of having a TIA or a stroke?

Risk factors for TIAs and strokes include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes (good control it is important)
  • High cholesterol
  • Excess alcohol consumption

These risk factors can all be modified by lifestyle changes. These include increasing physical activity, stopping smoking and eating a more balanced diet.

For more information about these lifestyle changes, TIAs and strokes, please visit the links below. If you have concerns about your own health, please visit your GP. Remember, TIAs and strokes are medical emergencies, it’s important to dial 999 if you suspect you or someone else is having one.

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Any opinions above are the author’s alone and may not represent those of his/her affiliations. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing.  All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of the sample surveyed. An online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice. Article edited for publication by Lewis Germain.

Image courtesy of pixabay

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