Transient Ischaemic Attacks or TIAs ("warning strokes" or "mini strokes")
A TIA is the same as a stroke, except that the signs last for a short amount of time and no longer than 24 hours.
Although the signs do not last long, a TIA is very serious. It means there is a problem linked with a high risk of stroke. More than one in 12 people will have a stroke within a week after a TIA.
Because of this, a TIA is often called a warning stroke or mini-stroke. It shouldn’t be ignored.
Cause of a TIA
In most cases TIA is caused by a blockage of blood supply to the brain. This blockage, which is temporary, is usually a clot. The clot then either dissolves or moves. After this the blood supply to the brain returns to normal and the signs disappear.
TIA is not usually caused by bleeding in the brain.
SIGNS OF TIA
Learning the FAST message will help you see the signs of a TIA and stroke.
There is no way of knowing if the signs are TIA or stroke. If you experience any one of these signs, or see someone with these signs, call 111 immediately.
Getting help fast can reduce brain damage and give someone a better chance of recovery.
A suspected TIA is a medical emergency. A person with signs should be taken to hospital immediately.
TIA diagnosis is based on:
- understanding what signs occurred
- thorough medical assessment including blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar tests
- results of head scans and
- other relevant examinations and tests.
Medication can help reduce the risk of stroke and improve your health.
Medications prescribed after a TIA work in different ways. They may:
- make blood less sticky. Anti-platelet medication e.g. aspirin, clopidogrel
- prevent fatty deposits from building up. Cholesterol lowering medication e.g. simvastatin, atorvastatin
- lower blood pressure e.g. cilazapril, quinapril, others
- thin blood to prevent clotting e.g. warfarin or dabigatran.
It’s important to take your medication as prescribed by your doctor. Never stop taking it without talking to your doctor.
RISK OF A STROKE AFTER A TIA
A TIA is a sign that there is a problem with the blood supply to the brain. Anyone who has had a TIA is at an increased risk of stroke. The greatest risk of having a stroke is within the first few days after a TIA. This is why it’s important to call an ambulance and seek immediate medical help if any stroke signs develop.
Specialised treatment with ‘clot busting medication’ can be given for some strokes. Act FAST because time is a crucial factor for this treatment to be considered.
Tauranga’s Marian Wheatcroft was in bed with her husband Gordon, scrolling through news sites on their iPads when Marian's arm suddenly went limp and dropped on the bed.
In a slurred voice, she turned to Gordon and said: "I think I'm having a stroke."
The pair recognised the symptoms because they’d recently seen TV ads for the FAST stroke awareness campaign.
Gordon knew it was a medical emergency and rang 111. By the time the ambulance got to their house 10 minutes later, Marian had recovered.
But as Gordon spoke to the ambulance staff, Marian called out that she was having a second stroke - and then fall to the floor.
Marian had another episode in the ambulance, and another at Tauranga hospital.
It turned out she’d had a series of TIAs (transient ischaemic attack) – often called mini or warning strokes.
Marian was back home after three days in hospital and has recovered very well.
The pair say that if they hadn't seen the FAST ads the outcome could have been very different.
"Who knows whether that ad saved my life or not but we are extremely grateful that we had seen it many times and did what it said to do," Marian says.
REDUCING YOUR RISK
Many people consider having a TIA as a ‘wake-up call’ and a sign that they need to make some changes to their lifestyle. Here are some tips to help make this change.
- blood pressure regularly so you can take steps to reduce it if necessary
- cholesterol so it can be reduced if the levels are too high
- heart beat. An irregular heart beat called atrial fibrillation can cause stroke. Medication can treat this.
- Eat a healthy diet and reduce salt. This helps lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol
- Stop smoking. If you smoke and have high blood pressure you are up to 18 times more likely to have a stroke than a non-smoker your own age with normal blood pressure
- Move more. Regular exercise and being active will help reduce many risk factors for stroke
- Keep your alcohol intake low. Drinking more than two small alcoholic drinks per day can increase your risk of stroke
- Lose weight. Being overweight puts extra strain on your blood vessels and heart. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly will help control your weight
- Take medication as prescribed by your doctor.
DRIVING AFTER A TIA
A TIA doesn’t usually have an impact on day to day activities. However a person who had a TIA shouldn't drive for at least one month, because of the risk of a stroke occurring after TIA. A doctor must give a medical clearance before you can drive again.
TIA INFORMATION, ADVICE AND SUPPORT
Stroke Foundation of New Zealand
0800 78 76 53 - free phone for advice and link with community stroke advisors
Healthline 24 hour telephone advice
0800 61 11 16
Other sources of information:
Stroke Association UK
National Stroke Foundation Australia
American Stroke Association USA
Download this information as a pdf file, or order a copy of our leaflet.