June 15, 2006 12:00 am
A temporary interruption of blood supply (and oxygen) to part of the brain, also known as a ministroke. The symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) are similar to those of a stroke, which include numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body; confusion or difficulty in talking or understanding speech; trouble seeing in one or both eyes; and difficulty with walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination. However, unlike a stroke, the symptoms of a TIA usually go away completely within an hour but may last up to 24 hours (symptoms lasting longer indicate a stroke).
Since it is impossible for a person experiencing stroke-like symptoms to tell whether they are the short-lived result of a TIA or the result of a full-blown stroke, they should be considered an emergency if they occur. Time is of the essence when treating a stroke. People who have had a TIA are at great risk for a stroke, so doctors often prescribe certain treatments to reduce the likelihood of a stroke for people who have had a TIA.
The most commonly used drugs for preventing strokes are antiplatelet drugs. Antiplatelet drugs make the blood platelets less likely to stick together and form clots. The most frequently used antiplatelet drug, which is the least expensive and has the fewest side effects, is aspirin. Other antiplatelet drugs include clopidogrel (brand name Plavix), ticlopidine (Ticlid), and a combination drug composed of aspirin and dipyridamole (Aggrenox).
For someone with a severely narrowed carotid artery (an artery in the neck that supplies blood to the brain), a surgical procedure called carotid endarterectomy may help. In this procedure, atherosclerotic plaque is mechanically cleared out of the carotid artery to restore blood flow to the brain. In other cases, the best choice could be a procedure called carotid angioplasty, in which a small, balloonlike device is inflated in the clogged artery to open it. Physicians can also decide to place a small stent (hollow tube) in the artery to keep it open after angioplasty.
There are a number of risk factors for TIA and stroke, including high blood pressure (usually considered the most important treatable factor), cardiovascular disease, cigarette smoking, diabetes, blood lipid disorders, inactivity, and obesity. People can reduce their risk of TIA and stroke by getting regular medical checkups, limiting saturated and trans fats in the diet, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, limiting sodium intake, exercising regularly, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, stopping smoking if they smoke, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and blood lipid levels in target ranges.
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