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Transient ischemic attack: A stroke warning you should heed

Transient ischemic attacks often signal that a major stroke is on the way. So take any strokelike symptoms seriously—even if they pass.

Your body's pretty good at letting you know when something's going wrong. But it's up to you to recognize and do something about the problem.

One such warning the body sometimes sends is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or warning stroke. TIAs often warn of impending strokes with symptoms that mirror those of a major stroke, but last only for a short time.

About one-third of the people who have a TIA will have a more serious stroke later, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Strokes can happen within days or months of a TIA.

Symptoms of a TIA

Like major strokes, TIAs happen when blood doesn't reach part of the brain. This often occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery. But with a TIA, the blockage lasts briefly and tends to resolve itself, according to the American Stroke Association.

TIA symptoms come on suddenly and usually last less than an hour—though in some cases they can last up to 24 hours. These symptoms include:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Confusion and trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination.
  • Severe headache of unknown cause.
If you have these symptoms, don't wait to see if they go away; get help right away.

Treatment can help

If you have had a TIA, think of it as your body's way of warning you about underlying problems that could bring on a full-blown stroke. Treating these problems could help you avoid a stroke or another TIA.

If you have symptoms of a TIA, seek medical attention immediately. It's best to be evaluated within 60 minutes from the time your symptoms start, according to the NINDS.

Treatments may vary, depending on your medical history and what caused the TIA.

According to the NINDS, treatment for a TIA may include an antiplatelet medicine, such as aspirin, or stronger medicines to prevent clotting. In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to restore blood flow to blocked or narrowed neck arteries.

Your doctor may also talk to you about lifestyle changes to help prevent stroke, such as quitting smoking, eating healthful foods and managing your weight.

reviewed 8/29/2019

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