Transient ischemic attack (TIA): symptoms and consequences

What is a transient ischemic attack, or TIA?

A Transient Ischemic Attack, or TIA, is a health problem located in the blood system of the brain. The latter has a constant need to be supplied with oxygen, which the blood brings to him in an endless cycle. When the blood supply suddenly drops or is cut off, it can be called ischemia.

Ischemia can occur in any organ, due to various causes (a clot blocks an artery, bleeding or shock). A TIA is therefore a temporary drop in the blood supply to an area of ​​the brain. The fast aspect is important here, because a TIA does not cause any sequelae, and generally does not last more than an hour. If the accident lasts longer, the poorly or non-irrigated areas of blood in the brain will quickly deteriorate, which will lead to much more serious consequences: Cerebral Vascular Accident (stroke), or infarction.

What are the differences between TIA and stroke?

We can summarize by saying that a stroke is a TIA that has lasted too long. Or conversely, a TIA is a very short stroke. The majority of them do not last more than ten minutes, at worst a few hours. The difference lies in the duration of the lack of oxygen in the affected areas. In summary, AIT is similar to submerging the head under water for a few seconds, while stroke would drowning for a few minutes: the consequences on the brain and the organism are beyond measure, but the cause remains the same.

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Differences in symptoms?

However, the symptoms will be the same as those of a stroke, hence the importance of recognizing them. It is thus estimated that a TIA very often precedes a stroke. Most TIA patients have a high risk of having a stroke within 90 days. 

TIA is therefore a means of prevention of stroke, in the sense that a simple TIA will often have no consequences on the faculties of the affected patient, but will prevent the more serious consequences of stroke.

 The causes of a TIA

The cause of TIA is ischemia, which is the temporary blockage of an artery in the brain. The causes of ischemia are diverse:

A clot blocks the artery

A clot is a colloquial word used to describe a thrombus, a clump of coagulated blood. These can form naturally in the blood, and even have the role of repairing any cracks in the veins and arteries. But sometimes, these “clots” will end up in the wrong place: at a crossing or at the entrance of a valve, until they block the passage of blood.

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In the case of TIA, they block the blood that leads into an artery in an area of ​​the brain. If they stay on for a long time, it can cause a stroke, and damage the dry area. In TIA, the clot seems to come off on its own, or to break down naturally.

Rupture, bleeding

In this case, the artery is cut or damaged, locally or internally, which can cause cerebral hemorrhage, which by coagulating can lead to ischemia.

Blow, compression

Compressed arteries in the brain can trigger TIA if an artery becomes temporarily blocked.

 How to recognize a transient ischemic attack?

The symptoms of TIA are the same as those of stroke, but for a shorter duration (from a few minutes to a few hours at most). Here are the most common symptoms: 

  • Sudden loss of vision in one eye;
  • Facial paralysis on one side;
  • Difficulty expressing oneself over a short period of time;
  • Loss of strength in one limb (arm, leg), on the same side.

 What to do after having a TIA?

See your doctor quickly

The mistake not to make after an AIT is to take it lightly. TIA is often the precursor to stroke. So, even if you feel better after a few minutes, and the symptoms have completely disappeared, you will still need to quickly contact a health professional to check your brain functions. For example, it is possible that the cause of a clot in an artery in the brain is still present, and that a new one forms, this time larger.

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Contact the SAMU

If in doubt, it is possible to contact the SAMU as soon as the symptoms appear over several minutes. Once these have disappeared, it is better to consult your doctor quickly without delay.

Hospitalization

If the doctor deems it necessary, hospitalization will be recommended while certain tests are carried out:

  • MRI (Magnetic Repulsion Imaging);
  • Ultrasound of the arteries of the neck or heart;
  • Blood test.

 AIT: how to prevent it

The causes of TIA are diverse, and often linked to the patient’s lifestyle or various pathologies:

  • Presence of high cholesterol in the blood;
  • Diabetes;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Obesity, sedentary lifestyle;
  • Tobacco, alcohol;
  • Arrhythmia, a heart rhythm disorder.

Each of these causes will have a different prevention, from diet to physical exercise, which will need to be targeted with your doctor.