Harvard Women's Health Watch

Why you should heed a ministroke

Transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs, can signal an impending stroke, but prompt care can minimize damage.

TIA transient ischemic attacks ministroke headache
Image: FlairImages/Thinkstock

Have you ever experienced a brief episode when your body seemed to be a little off—your vision was blurry, your speech slightly slurred, or one side of your body felt weaker than the other? If so, you may have experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA), says Dr. Natalia Rost, a neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. She notes that many women may assume they have suffered a migraine and get back to life as usual once the episode has passed. In fact, a TIA is a serious medical issue and warrants getting immediate treatment.

Immediate treatment is key

Having a TIA is usually a sign that you may have already endured a few "silent strokes"—interruptions of blood flow to the brain—and may have accumulated some brain damage as a result, Dr. Rost says. However, getting prompt attention for a TIA can significantly reduce your chance of having a major stroke and incurring greater damage.

A team of French researchers reported in April 2016 that people who received care from a stroke specialist within 24 hours of a TIA had only a 4% risk of having a major stroke within the next three months, compared with the average risk of 12% to 20%. Recent studies also show that people who got prompt treatment from stroke specialists in the hospital or clinic were much more likely to get the appropriate follow-up treatments, including aspirin, blood thinners, and blood pressure medication. "Just as getting prompt treatment for chest pain minimizes damage from a heart attack, getting help for a TIA diminishes the effects on the brain," Dr. Rost says.

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