Did you know that you may have experienced a stroke without knowing it? Some strokes are so brief that you may not recognize them at first. These are called transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), and it is important to take them seriously.
TIAs are brief attacks that occur when a blood clot causes a temporary blockage in the blood vessels and prevents blood from reaching the brain. During a TIA, these blood clots either break off or dissolve on their own, leading to a resolution of the stroke symptoms within a few minutes.
Have You Had a TIA?
Because TIAs are so brief and generally do not cause lasting brain damage, most people who experience them do not seek medical attention. They may brush off their symptoms, thinking nothing of them. However, symptoms of a TIA are largely the same as an acute stroke:
- Numbness and/or weakness in the face, arms or legs, usually on one side of the body
- Trouble seeing, speaking or understanding one’s surroundings
- Sudden, severe and unexplained headaches
These symptoms only last a short time, usually a few minutes. It can be tempting to dismiss a TIA as a momentary lapse, but this is not the case. Because a TIA has the same cause as a stroke, it should be treated as a medical emergency.
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Know Your Risks
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the leading cause of stroke in the United States. High blood pressure causes the heart to work too hard, which puts additional strain on your veins and arteries. Over time, this extra strain can weaken the walls of the blood vessels, making them more likely to burst or clog. High blood pressure is also associated with common forms of heart disease that increase the risk of stroke.
Other than high blood pressure, a number of other factors contribute to overall TIA risk:
- Sex and age: Men have a higher likelihood of TIA, as do individuals over the age of 55.
- Family history: Both stroke and TIA tend to run in families.
- Lifestyle factors: Smoking, heavy drinking, a sedentary lifestyle and a high-fat diet can all increase your risk of TIAs/strokes.
- Prior stroke: Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans who have had one stroke will have another during their lifetime, and those who have had one TIA are 10 times more likely to have another.
If these symptoms sound familiar, or if many of these risk factors apply to you, protecting yourself from TIA — and, by extension, a future acute stroke — should be a top priority. Fortunately, 80 percent of recurrent strokes are preventable through proper medication management, lifestyle adjustments and regular consultation with a physician.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has experienced a TIA/stroke, the Roxanna Todd Hodges Comprehensive Stroke Clinic and Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) Program at USC Neurosciences is here to support you. Our expert professionals take a multidisciplinary approach to identify and treat TIA, reducing your risk of stroke.