Transient ischaemic attack

This is a medical term for a ‘mini stroke’.This occurs for the same reasons as a stroke but usually resolves itself within 24 hours.

Basically, the blood supply to the brain has been temporarily ‘interrupted’as a result of a ruptured or blocked artery within the brain. This stops oxygen rich blood from reaching the brain which is vital for its functioning. A failure to do so results in cell death within a certain section of the brain - also known as a ‘mini stroke’.

This blood clot usually breaks up on its own accord which does not cause any further damage. This results in a cessation of any symptoms and no permanent damage.

A mini stroke is caused by the same factors as those for a full blown stroke, the major cause being high blood pressure.

This means that you experience stroke like symptoms but without any permanent damage. The effects are temporary - hence the term ‘transient’.

Causes of a transient ischaemic attack

These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Blood clot (thrombosis)
  • Heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Sickle cell anaemia

These are the same factors which cause a stroke.

This is referred to as a ‘mini stroke’ but it does not mean that it is any less serious. One or more of these episodes can lead to a full blown stroke so if you experience the mini version then it needs to be treated right away.

Early intervention can reduce the risk of further attacks or a stroke itself.

Symptoms of a transient ischaemic attack

These are very similar to those of a stroke and include:

  • Slurring of the speech
  • Paralysis on one side of the face and/or body
  • Loss of vision (temporary)
  • Tingling or numbness on one side of the body
  • Dizziness
  • Poor co-ordination
  • Unsteadiness
  • Severe headache
  • Difficulty swallowing

Even though these are less dangerous than a stroke they still require medical treatment. So if you or someone you know experiences such an attack then seek medical help as soon as possible.

Some people have a stroke which has not been preceded by a transient ischaemic attack but a large percentage of people will go onto to develop a stroke after one or more of these attacks.

A stroke often occurs within a year of these attacks.

The importance of urgent medical intervention

This is a temporary condition but does indicate that you are an increased risk of a stroke or a heart attack. The reason for this is your propensity to developing blood clots, either in the brain or your heart.

If a blood clot forms within an artery in the brain then it leads to a transient ischaemic attack or a stroke. But if it develops in an artery within the heart then a heart attack occurs.

So, seek your GP urgently if you suspect you have experienced a transient ischaemic attack.

Treatment for a transient ischaemic attack

To start with you will undergo a range of tests to confirm a diagnosis. These will include a blood test, brain scan and an ultrasound scan of the arteries within your neck - called the carotid arteries.

The aim is to reduce the risk of you having a further attack or a stroke. So, treatment will involve medication to prevent blood clots from forming, medication to reduce your blood pressure (if you have high blood pressure) and statins if you have high cholesterol levels. You will also be asked about your lifestyle. There are certain lifestyle factors which increase the risk of a transient ischaemic attack which include a high fat diet, smoking, excess alcohol consumption, lack of exercise and being overweight.

If you are a diabetic then you will be advised on how to regulate your blood sugar levels. It is important to do so as diabetes increases the risk of heart disease, kidney failure, stroke, high blood pressure etc.

Surgery is another option. This is performed to widen a narrowed carotid artery due to the build up of fatty deposits. It is effective but like all forms of surgery, it carries a small amount of risk. Your GP can advise you further about this.

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