Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): Causes & Symptoms

Transient ischemic attacks are temporary cardiovascular episodes with dangerous repercussions, so it is important to understand the underlying causes and symptoms.

Causes of Transient Ischemic Attack

Commonly known as a mini-stroke, a transient ischemic attack (TIA) causes neurological dysfunction due to a temporary loss of blood flow to the focal brain, spinal cord, or retina. A transient ischemic attack is temporary, sometimes lasting only a few seconds or minutes whereas a normal stroke is caused by a blood clot that blocks part of the blood flow to the brain.

The actual cause of a TIA is a buildup of plaque in the arteries, commonly known as atherosclerosis. That blockage can slow down the flow of blood, and thus cause a TIA, or cause a clot to form and move towards the brain from another part of the body. Fortunately, there is not typically any permanent damage as a result of a TIA, but it can be a warning sign that you are at high risk for strokes and other cardiovascular issues.

Transient Ischemic Attack- Risk Factors

Some of the risk factors for a transient ischemic attack include

  • Family history of strokes, age, race (African Americans are disproportionately more likely to suffer from TIA)
  • Previous history of cardiovascular problems, such as other TIAs
  • Lifestyle factors – obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol consumption
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Diabetes
  • Drugs
  • Birth control

Symptoms of Transient Ischemic Attack

Symptoms of ischemia include:

  • Weakness
  • Numbness, or contralateral paralysis (paralysis on the opposite side of the body from where the ischemia occurs)
  • Trouble with your vision
  • Speech impediments
  • Dizziness and balance issues
  • Sudden confusion
  • Inability to focus

These symptoms can last for as little as five minutes, up to 24 hours, but the effects are always temporary. When the symptoms first appear, they feel a great deal like a stroke, which is why TIAs are particularly frightening for people.

You should call 911 and go to the hospital, as mini-strokes may happen in rapid succession, or be a precursor to a full stroke or heart attack. Seeking medical attention is essential, despite the fact that there are a number of home preventative methods and treatments that could be effective.

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