A TIA is serious, not just a “mini-stroke,” the organization says


According to the American Heart Association, transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs, should no longer be viewed as mere “mini-strokes,” but rather as harbingers of a larger stroke.

In new guidelines, the group says at least 240,000 Americans experience a TIA each year and calls on medical providers to treat TIAs as emergencies.

The statement gives medical providers guidance on how to evaluate patients who suspect they have had a TIA. The condition occurs when a temporary blockage of blood to the brain causes stroke-like symptoms that quickly resolve.

Because symptoms usually resolve within an hour, it can be difficult to diagnose suspected TIAs, according to the guidelines.

For years, TIAs were popularly referred to as mini-strokes, but the term is a misnomer. In a press release, AHA officials say a TIA is “more accurately described as a warning stroke.” Although less severe than full strokes, TIAs progress to full strokes within three months in about 1 in 5 patients. Nearly half of those full-blown strokes occur within just two days, the scientists write.

The guidelines call on medical providers to use both brain imaging and risk assessment scores to determine whether a stroke has damaged the brain and identify patients at risk for a major stroke. Providers should examine symptoms and medical history, then perform a CT scan to rule out conditions that can mimic TIA.

Patients should get an MRI scan within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, the report recommends.

Rural and underserved hospitals without on-site neurologists or with limited access to imaging should participate in telemedicine networks that connect health care providers and transfer patients to hub hospitals for imaging or arrange outpatient MRIs, the guideline says.

“Including these steps for people with suspected TIA can help determine which patients would benefit from hospitalization, versus those who can be safely discharged from the emergency room with close follow-up,” said Hardik P. Amin, an associate professor of neurology. who chaired the society’s committee for writing scientific statements, in the press release. Amin is also the stroke medical director at Yale New Haven Hospital.

TIAs have the same symptoms as strokes: drooping face, arm weakness, speech problems, dizziness. People with other cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking are at greater risk.

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