When blood flow to part of the brain stops for a short period of time, also called transient ischemic attack (TIA), it can mimic stroke-like symptoms. These symptoms appear and last less than 24 hours before disappearing. While TIAs generally do not cause permanent brain damage, they are a serious warning sign that a stroke may happen in the future and should not be ignored. TIAs are often warning signs that a person is at risk for a more serious and debilitating stroke. About one-third of those who have a TIA will have an acute stroke some time in the future. Many strokes can be prevented by heeding the warning signs of TIAs and treating underlying risk factors. The most important treatable factors linked to TIAs and stroke are high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, heart disease, carotid artery disease, diabetes, and heavy use of alcohol. Medical help is available to reduce and eliminate these factors. Lifestyle changes such as eating a balanced diet, maintaining healthy weight, exercising, and enrolling in smoking and alcohol cessation programs can also reduce these factors. Plaques can decrease the blood flow through an artery or lead to the development of a clot. A blood clot moving to an artery that supplies your brain from another part of your body, most commonly from your heart, also may cause a TIA. Once your doctor has determined the cause of your transient ischemic attack, the goal of treatment is to correct the abnormality and prevent a stroke.
Depending on the cause of your TIA, your doctor may prescribe medication to reduce the tendency for blood to clot or may recommend surgery or a balloon procedure (angioplasty). Angioplasty In selected cases, a procedure called carotid angioplasty, or stenting, is an option. This procedure involves using a balloon-like device to open a clogged artery and placing a small wire tube (stent) into the artery to keep it open. Because there is no way to tell whether symptoms are from a TIA or an acute stroke, patients should assume that all stroke-like symptoms signal an emergency and should not wait to see if they go away. A prompt evaluation (within 60 minutes) is necessary to identify the cause of the TIA and determine appropriate therapy. Depending on a patient's medical history and the results of a medical examination, the doctor may recommend drug therapy or surgery to reduce the risk of stroke in people who have had a TIA. The use of antiplatelet agents, particularly aspirin, is a standard treatment for patients at risk for stroke. People with atrial fibrillation (irregular beating of the heart) may be prescribed anticoagulants. Each year, approximately 18,242 strokes occur in the United States Some of the people we talked to had taken part in a research study looking at stroke and TIA. This project is what is known as a ‘cohort study’, in which a group of people with a particular condition or set of characteristics are followed up long term.