Muhammad "Mud" Alvi, MD, WVU Medicine neurologist, talks about transient ischemic attacks – also known as warning strokes – and why it’s important to seek treatment.

What is a transient ischemic attack?
A transient ischemic attack (TIA) resembles a stroke, but it usually only lasts a few minutes with no permanent damage. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. Immediate medical attention is needed to determine if a patient is experiencing a TIA or a stroke.

Dr. Muhammad "Mud" Alvi

A TIA is sometimes referred to as a ministroke. Within a year after suffering from a TIA, about one in three people will have a more serious stroke, including an ischemic stroke, which occurs from a blockage within a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain, or a hemorrhagic stroke, where a deteriorated blood vessel bursts.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of a TIA and other strokes may include numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body; confusion or difficulty in talking or understanding speech; trouble seeing in one or both eyes; and difficulty with walking, dizziness, or loss of balance and coordination. TIA symptoms usually disappear within an hour, although they could persist for up to 24 hours.

What are the risk factors?
Risk factors that can be treated or addressed include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity. Other risk factors include being age 55 and older, having a prior TIA or stroke, and having a family history of stroke. Males and African Americans are also at greater risk.

How is a TIA diagnosed?
Patients will undergo a series of tests to find out the cause of TIA. An MRI or CT scan may be used to see if there is any evidence of stroke, even if the symptoms have resolved. Ultrasound may be used to search for blocked arteries, as well as cardiac testing, including EKG and echocardiogram. These tests evaluate for irregular heart rhythm, like atrial fibrillation, or clots in the heart, which may require blood thinners like warfarin.

What should I do if I think I have experienced a TIA?
It’s important to see your doctor, so you can take steps to prevent a more serious stroke in the future. A TIA should not be ignored, and it can be an opportunity to make the right interventions and improve overall health to prevent a stroke down the road.

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