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Can stroke symptoms come and go? Understanding TIAs

July 03, 2024

If you notice signs of a stroke that quickly come and go in yourself or a loved one, you may be seeing symptoms of a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. Although it can be easy to dismiss symptoms that only last a few minutes to an hour, signs of a TIA are not something to ignore. 

The Difference Between a TIA and a Stroke

During a stroke, blood flow to the brain is interrupted. The most common type of stroke is an ischemic stroke, which occurs when blood flow is blocked by a blot clot or build-up of other materials in the blood vessels. Without quick treatment, ischemic strokes cause significant damage to brain tissue.

Like an ischemic stroke, a TIA occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked. Unlike an ischemic stroke, the blockage in a TIA quickly breaks down and clears on its own and does not cause permanent damage to the brain. 

TIA symptoms begin suddenly and are the same as stroke symptoms:

  • Arm, face or leg numbness or weakness, especially on only one side

  • Balance or coordination issues 

  • Changes in vision or other senses

  • Confusion

  • Difficulty talking or understanding what others are saying

  • Dizziness

  • Trouble walking

Symptoms of a TIA can last up to 24 hours but are usually gone within an hour or two.

A TIA Is a Medical Emergency

Although TIA symptoms come and go quickly, a TIA is a medical emergency. In many cases, symptoms have resolved on their own before a person can get to the emergency room. Still, If you notice signs of a possible stroke or TIA, it’s essential to think F.A.S.T. If you notice F—face drooping, A—arm weakness or S—speech or communication issues, it’s T—time to call 911, even if symptoms go away quickly.

TIAs are often called warning strokes or mini-strokes for good reason. About 1 in 5 people who have a TIA will have a stroke within three months. Nearly half of these strokes happen within 48 hours after the TIA. Quick medical attention for a TIA can help prevent a stroke.

Know Your Risk Factors

Anyone can have a TIA at any age. Still, certain factors can raise your risk. Some risk factors are out of your control, such as being over age 55 or having a family history of TIA or stroke. Other factors, including eating an unhealthy diet, not getting enough exercise or smoking, can be changed. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is the biggest risk factor for having a TIA or stroke. Other health conditions can also increase your risk of a TIA, including:

  • Atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat 

  • Carotid artery disease or other heart disease

  • Certain autoimmune conditions, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis

  • Diabetes

  • High cholesterol 

  • Migraines with aura

  • Obstructive sleep apnea

  • Sickle cell disease or another condition affecting blood clotting

There are also risk factors unique to women, including pregnancy and hormone replacement therapy during menopause.

Take Action to Prevent a TIA

A TIA is often a warning sign for a stroke and a message from your body to improve your cardiovascular health. Still, you don't need to wait to have a TIA to take steps to improve your health and lower your stroke risk.

Although you cannot control all risk factors, many TIAs and strokes can be prevented by managing chronic health conditions and being proactive about your heart health.

You can lower your risk of having a TIA or stroke by:

  • Avoiding or quitting smoking

  • Eating a high-fiber, low-fat, low-sodium diet 

  • Getting regular exercise

  • Limiting alcohol use

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

Chronic stress can also increase your risk for a TIA. Learning new ways to deal with and manage stress can lower your stroke risk and improve your quality of life. 

Learn more about TIA and stroke care at St. Luke’s Health Neurology.

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