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Home Stroke Types Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) among the elderly

Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) among the elderly

A TIA – or mini-stroke – is the same as a stroke, but the symptoms last a short time, often a matter of hours. A TIA occurs when a blood clot temporarily blocks the blood supply in the brain. When the clot moves away, the stroke symptoms stop.

Recovery from a TIA is often quick, but a TIA is a warning that there is a high risk of going on to have a more serious stroke most likely in the first days and weeks after it occurred.

It is therefore very important to seek medical advice, going to hospital, or to see the GP for tests.  

Urgent medical attention for a TIA or mini stroke

The likelihood of a TIA is significantly increased by health issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or Diabetes, so regular health checks will help manage such health concerns and reduce the risk of a TIA or a more serious stroke. Diet, exercise, stress and other lifestyle issues may also play a part in the risk factors.

TIA/mini stroke symptoms

The symptoms of a mini-stroke or TIA are the same as other types of stroke.  You may find it easier to remember what to look for from this acronym – FAST:

F              Face: numbness in the face (one side may drop, one eye or one side of the mouth)

A             Arms: ability to raise both arms above the head

S              Speech: maybe confused or garbled

T              Time: to call 999

There are other signs of a mini stroke, possibly less obvious, which include:

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Sudden loss or blurring vision
  • Being or feeling sick
  • Complete paralysis of 1 side of the body
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty understanding what others are saying
  • Problems with balance and co-ordination
  • Sudden and severe headache/blinding pain
  • Loss of consciousness

If a TIA is suspected, aspirin will be given to reduce the risk of a blood clot, and therefore a stroke. Tests and then treatment and advice will be given to reduce the risk of having a stroke in future.

How TIA is diagnosed

The most important information for confirming a TIA are the symptoms and when they happened, because these may disappear quickly following a TIA and therefore be impossible to physically see.

Tests and checks may include a brain scan, tests for health problems linked to a stroke, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Also, heart monitoring to check for heart conditions or an ultrasound scan to check for blocked blood vessels in the neck.

Risk factors and causes of a TIA

High blood pressure is the biggest single risk factor for TIA, and it plays a part in half of all strokes. It doesn’t have any symptoms so you might not know you have it. By treating high blood pressure, the risk of a TIA can be significantly reduced.

Medication might be prescribed, and  exercise and healthy eating encouraged to reduce blood pressure.

medication for a TIA or mini stroke

Atrial fibrillation (AF)is a heart condition that causes an irregular or abnormally fast heartbeat. It means that the heart doesn’t always empty itself of blood at each beat. A clot can form in the heart and travel to the brain, causing a stroke. AF can come and go, so you might need home monitoring to diagnose it.

A fitness tracking device – app or wearable device –  can help keep a check on the heart rate, but this should be in conjunction with taking medical advice. A diagnosis of AF may lead to a prescription for blood-thinning medication to reduce the chance of clots forming.

TIA treatments aim to reduce the chance of another clot. Blood thinning medication will be prescribed to reduce the risk. If the clot was due to high blood pressure, or clogged arteries due to fatty deposits (atherosclerosis), you will be given anti-platelet medication such as aspirin or clopidogrel which make the sticky particles in the blood less likely to form clots.

Diabetes causes high levels of sugar in the blood. Over time this damages the blood vessels, which can lead to clots forming with the potential to bring about a TIA/mini stroke. Type 2 diabetes is the most common, and it is more likely to happen if you are overweight.  Medication might be needed, alongside healthy eating, losing weight and being active.

High cholesterol – Cholesterol is a vital substance produced by the liver, but if there is too much cholesterol in the blood it can damage the blood vessels. Cholesterol and other substances can clog up the arteries with fatty deposits. Statin medication is likely to be prescribed to reduce the risk of a TIA or stroke, along with changes to lifestyle such as more exercise and healthy eating.

Long-term effects of a TIA/mini stroke

Although the physical signs of a TIA end quickly, it can have some long-term effects. One thing to be aware of is that anyone who has a TIA is by law unable to drive for the following month

Other effects may include fatigue (extreme tiredness which doesn’t get better with rest). 

4 week driving ban after a TIA

A TIA can have an emotional impact. Feelings of shock and worries about the potential for a stroke, and broader concerns about health. Some people have problems with anxiety and low mood.  Speak with family and friends, or the GP to get help which is available.

The Stroke Association provides local support and resources you might find useful.  Read more here for detailed information about the early signs and symptoms of stroke and how to be best prepared.