What are the symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke?

What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted. This can happen when a blood vessel in the brain bursts (hemorrhagic stroke), or when there is some type of blockage that cuts off blood supply (ischemic stroke). When brain cells are deprived of oxygen, they die.

What is a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), also sometimes referred to as a “mini-stroke,” starts like a stroke but only lasts from several minutes up to 24 hours. Unlike a stroke, a TIA does not kill the brain cells, so there is no lasting damage to the brain. However, when a TIA begins, there is no way to tell if a person is having a stroke or a TIA.

Approximately 240,000 adults in the United States experiences a TIA each year. At least another 690,000 adults experience an ischemic stroke. Approximately 15 percent of all patients who have experienced a stroke have had a previous TIA. Patients with TIAs are at a particularly increased risk of having a stroke within the following days to weeks. TIAs should be considered warning signs of potential future strokes.

What are the risk factors for a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke?

Some factors cannot be modified (such as age), while others can (smoking). Risks of TIA and stroke include:

  • Older age. The risk of stroke doubles with each decade after age 55 in both men and women.
  • Family history of stroke
  • Male sex. Men have a higher risk of TIA; women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke.
  • Race or ethnicity. African Americans and people of Hispanic ethnicity are at higher risk of TIA and stroke than Caucasian (white) people.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Physical inactivity
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Smoking (both tobacco and marijuana)
  • High blood cholesterol levels
  • Drug abuse
  • Obesity

What are the symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke?

The symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) and a stroke do not differ. Symptoms generally come on suddenly and can include:

  • Difficulty seeing from one or both eyes
  • Numbness or weakness in the face, arms, or legs, especially on one side
  • Severe headache
  • Difficulty walking
  • Dizziness, loss of coordination and balance
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding words

If stroke or TIA symptoms appear, it is very important to go to the ER to get immediate medical help, even if symptoms resolve!