Description and Possible Medical Problems
If you temporarily lose the ability to talk and are unable to use one of your arms and/or legs, you may think you’ve had a stroke. The truth is that you’ve probably had a transient ischemic attack, also called a TIA or a ministroke. While these symptoms may be disturbing to you and your family, the good news is that if you have had a ministroke, the symptoms will completely clear up in less than a day.
A TIA can be caused by an irregular heartbeat or a heart valve problem. More frequently, however, it is the result of a reduced blood supply due to a severe narrowing in the blood vessel that feeds the brain.
If you think that you or a family member has had a TIA, you will need to see your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. He will do a complete neurological evaluation and may suggest that you be hospitalized so that your heart rate can be checked for a prolonged period of time with an EKG, or echocardiogram, which will check for any abnormalities in your heart valves. He may also decide to hook you up to a Holtor monitor to measure your heartbeat for a full 24 hours. The Holtor monitor is used when you don’t need to be hospitalized. Most often, this will be done if you have heart palpitations with no other symptoms, or if you have vague chest pain or discomfort or unexplained shortness of breath. Your doctor may also hook you up to a Holtor monitor if you’re taking an antiarrhythmia medication so that he can determine how the medication is affecting your heartbeat. No matter the reason for the test, your doctor may also ask you to keep a log of your activity and symptoms over the 24 hours to see if they correspond with or even cause your irregular heartbeat.
Treatment for a TIA will include a low-fat, low-sodium diet, exercise, and medications such as Coumadin and heparin (see “Speech Loss or Garbled Speech with Loss of Movement on One Side of Body” above for more information about these medications) that will thin the blood and lower your blood pressure.
Even though a TIA is less serious than a stroke, it’s important that you follow your doctor’s orders—because if you don’t take care of your health, you may well have a full-blown stroke sometime in the future.