Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: What to do about TIAs?

Ask the doctor

What to do about TIAs?

Q. For the last few years, I have been experiencing what I think are mini-strokes. The first time it happened, I lost the sight in one eye for about a minute. Sometimes the vision in both eyes gets blurred for a few minutes. A few weeks ago I could not think of the word "battery" while talking with a friend. Otherwise, I am a healthy 77-year-old who exercises, isn't overweight, and doesn't smoke. My doctor hasn't suggested any tests or courses of action. Can you?

A. One of the problems with transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) is that it is sometimes hard to tell what is a TIA and what isn't. The vision problems you mention are more troubling than not being able to remember a particular word — that happens to almost everyone. If you knew the word but couldn't say it, that would be worrisome.

Let's assume that you are having TIAs. The most important thing you can do is get to an emergency room, or call 911, when one is happening. Why? Full strokes can start out just like TIAs, and one in three people who have a TIA goes on to have a full-blown stroke, sometimes in the next day or two. The sooner you get to the hospital, the sooner treatment can get started to break up or remove the blood clot that is blocking an artery feeding your brain. It's also possible that the symptoms you are having will offer clues as to what is going on.

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