Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), sometimes called "mini-strokes," happen when a blood clot temporarily reduces blood flow to the brain. Symptoms usually last only 10 to 15 minutes and clear up within 24 hours, with no lasting damage. But having a TIA puts you at risk for a stroke.
TIAs sometimes happen before strokes, and they are considered a warning sign of stroke. If you have symptoms of a TIA, you should see your doctor immediately. The risk of stroke could be reduced by 80% if people are immediately treated by stroke specialists.
Signs and Symptoms
A person may have the following signs and symptoms during a TIA:
What Causes It?
TIAs are usually caused by a clot that blocks blood flow. Plaque, often called atherosclerosis, can build up in your arteries, narrowing the space blood flows through or causing a clot to develop. Some other conditions that can cause TIAs include:
Who is Most At Risk?
These characteristics increase your risk for TIA:
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
If you have symptoms of TIA, see your health care provider right away. DO NOT wait for your symptoms to get better.
Your provider will ask about your symptoms, examine you, and may do tests, such as blood tests, computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of your head, or ultrasound of the blood vessels to your brain. If the ultrasound shows some blockage, your doctor may consider a test called an angiogram to view the blood vessels more clearly.
These tests will help your provider determine whether you had a TIA or something else, and what the cause may have been.
You can take the following steps to help prevent TIA:
Treatment will depend on your signs and symptoms, exams, and tests. Your provider may admit you to the hospital to evaluate your condition more thoroughly and to treat you if your condition becomes worse. You may need oxygen to help you breathe and to lessen the effects of blocked blood flow.
To help prevent TIA, stroke, or heart attack, your provider may prescribe antiplatelet agents, drugs that prevent platelets from clumping; or anticoagulants (blood thinners), drugs that prevent blood from clotting. Many drugs, herbs, and dietary supplements interact with these types of medications. Talk to your doctor and pharmacist. These drugs include:
Surgical and Other Procedures
If your carotid (neck) artery is narrowed, your provider may recommend a type of surgery called carotid endarterectomy to clean deposits from inside the artery. While examining your carotid artery, your provider may perform angioplasty, where a balloon or a tube-like structure called a stent is inserted into the artery to open it.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
If you think you are having a TIA, or a stroke, call 911. If you have had a TIA or are at risk for one, ask your doctor before taking any herbs or supplements. This is especially important if you take any drugs to prevent blood clots.
Diet is very important in preventing and treating blood vessel (vascular) diseases. Some nutrients and herbs may protect against injury from reduced blood flow and damage from oxidation, a process that happens as the body ages and damages cells, tissue, and DNA. Research shows mindfulness-based interventions also help improve outcomes.
Nutrition and Supplements
Following these tips for a healthy diet and lifestyle may help lower your risk of TIA and stroke:
Foods that are high in these nutrients may help prevent stroke. There is no evidence that taking supplements will help, however:
In scientific studies, these supplements have shown promise for treating stroke or TIA:
Herbs are a way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider before starting any treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, or teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
Scientific literature does not support the use of homeopathy for TIAs. An experienced homeopath would consider your individual case and may recommend treatments to address both your underlying condition and any current symptoms.
The shorter the amount of time between TIAs, the more likely you are to have a stroke. This seems to be the most important predictor of stroke risk. Narrowing of the carotid arteries also indicates risk of a stroke. How long symptoms last does not seem to be connected to stroke risk.
TIAs are a warning sign of stroke. But more people with TIA die from heart attack than stroke. If you have a stroke and are not treated right away, you may be more likely to have complications, such as pneumonia, hypothermia, dehydration, or serious skeletal muscle problems. Damage to the brain may lead to breathing problems. Bleeding or swelling in the head may occur days after a stroke. Multiple strokes increase the risk of seizure, blood clots to the legs or lungs, and impaired memory or judgment (dementia).
Follow your health care provider's advice on getting checkups after a TIA to prevent stroke and heart attack. About one-third of people who have a TIA will have an acute stroke at some time in the future. Half of these strokes occur within a year, and 20% happen within 5 months.
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Review Date: 1/5/2015
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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