New evidence: transient ischemic attack (TIA) may not be transient at all, but there’s a lot you can do about it

February 5, 2018

A recently published study from the Netherlands suggests that transient ischemic attacks (TIA), or mini-strokes, may leave more long-lasting damage than previously thought. If your doctor told you that your stroke was “transient”, you may be misinformed. Lead researcher Dr. Frank Rooij analyzed brain imaging on TIA patients. He found that almost a third of them showed signs of permanent damage. Patients also experienced a decline in cognitive function as identified in a follow-up appointment six months after the initial event. 

Take a TIA seriously

What’s happening in your brain during a TIA? The stroke-like symptoms are actually due to a lack of blood flow to distinct areas of your brain which causes a wide range of possible symptoms such as one-sided muscle weakness, unsteadiness, dizziness, or even unconsciousness. These symptoms can come and go suddenly within a day and without any trace of cognitive consequences.

What does this mean for someone who has recently suffered a TIA? If you had a mini-stroke, it’s important to know that you may suffer long-term cognitive effects. Organizational and planning skills are the most affected. So, you might find it increasingly difficult to plan your way around a busy day.

How can you stop cognitive decline after a TIA?

There needs to be more research about the long-term effects following a TIA. Though we know that we see a decline in cognition during the 6-month follow-up period in the study, we have no information as to what happens to people beyond that period. Measuring and monitoring changes in the brain and cognition can help detect decline early. Your doctor might order repeated cognitive testing to keep track of any changes.

Understanding the effects of a TIA is the first step. The next step is to prevent cognitive decline. Making some lifestyle changes is a good place to start. Other research has proven that exercise and good nutrition promote overall health and give an extra boost to the brain.  Encouraging blood flow to the brain and ensuring it receives the proper energy can help keep your mind sharp. You can also try taking a class to learn something new, working on puzzles, or meeting up in social groups. All of these stimulate the brain keeping it active and healthy.

The findings of this study warrant more detailed continued monitoring for patients who suffered from a TIA.

The lead author of this publication is Dr. van Rooij from the Departments of Neurology and Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Centre for Neuroscience, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Editorial note:

When you experience TIA-like symptoms, it is important to measure and monitor changes in cognition and in the brain to be able to detect risks for cognitive decline.

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