The symptoms are alarming — numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body. You're having trouble walking, and you're dizzy. Your balance is off, and so's your vision. You're also confused — you can't fully grasp what a co-worker just told you, and you have a sudden severe headache. Plus, your speech may be garbled. What the heck is going on?!
"If you have some or all of these symptoms and they disappear within an hour, you may be having a mini stroke,” says Victor Zach, MD, an HonorHealth neurologist. The technical term is transient ischemic attack or TIA. Because the symptoms match those of a stroke, don't delay. Head for the hospital and let the experts at HonorHealth decide what's happening to your body. Because time = brain cells.
Although TIAs usually don't cause permanent damage, they can be a warning sign for future strokes. A TIA happens when a blood vessel to the brain becomes blocked by a clot. Within minutes, brain cells start dying. You can have more than one TIA, and the symptoms may vary depending on what part of your brain they're affecting.
TIA causes and risk factors
What causes a transient ischemic attack? Often it's a buildup of fatty deposits containing cholesterol in an artery or one of its branches that supply oxygen and nutrients to your brain. These deposits are called plaques, aka atherosclerosis.
TIA risk factors include:
- Family history: If a member of your family has had a TIA or stroke, your risk is greater.
- Age: As you age, your risk goes up, especially after age 55.
- Sex: Men are slightly more as risk of a TIA and stroke. However, women experience more than half of deaths from strokes.
- Previous TIAs: You're 10 times more likely to have a stroke if you've had one or more TIAs.
- Race: Because blacks have a higher prevalence of high blood pressure and diabetes, they're at higher risk of dying of a stroke.
Transient ischemic attack prevention
To prevent a TIA:
- Cut back on cholesterol and fat in your diet: That means saturated and trans fat like you'll find in your favorite double cheeseburger.
- Eat the good stuff: Fruits and vegetables have lots of antioxidants and phytochemicals that can help protect you from TIAs and stroke.
- Watch your sodium: This is especially important if you have high blood pressure.
- Exercise: You can lower your high blood pressure by exercising regularly.
- Stop smoking. Now.
- Limit your alcohol: Drink moderately, if at all. For women, that means no more than one drink a day. For men, it's two drinks a day.
- Manage diabetes: "Consult your doctor to effectively manage diabetes and high blood pressure with diet, exercise, weight control and medication, if needed,” says Dr. Zach.
- Maintain a healthy weight: If you're overweight, losing pounds with diet and exercise can lower not only your blood pressure but also your cholesterol levels.
"Following a healthy lifestyle goes a long way to prevent TIAs and stroke,” Dr. Zach says. "That's important when you know that stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and a major cause of disability.”