Study Finds Patients Who Have "Mini Strokes" (TIAs) Should Seek Treatment Immediately
|Physicians have known for years that
patients who suffer transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), brief interruptions in the blood
flow to the brain, are at risk for heart disease or strokes sometime in the future. However, a new study finds the risk of
stroke may be almost immediate, often within days of a TIA. Therefore, the researchers say
that patients who suffer TIAs should seek medical attention as soon as possible so
immediate precautions may be taken to decrease the risk of stroke.
Physicians describe a TIA as a "mini" or "little" stroke in which the blood supply to the brain is temporarily stopped. According to the American Heart Association, more than a third of patients who have mini strokes will suffer strokes in the future. A TIA usually results in a sudden and brief decrease in brain function. Symptoms of TIAs commonly include sudden speech difficulties, vision changes, loss of balance, weakness, numbness in the limbs, or lack of coordination. These symptoms are temporary; they may last only a few minutes or up to 24 hours.
To conduct their study, S. Claiborne Johnston, MD, assistant professor of neurology at the University of California-San Francisco, and his colleagues studied medical records from 1707 patients who suffered TIAs to determine the short-term risk of stroke and other health problems after emergency room diagnoses of TIA. The average age of the patients was 72 years old. Dr. Johnston and his team found that approximately 25% of the patients (428 patients) went on to suffer strokes or other adverse effects within 90 days of a TIA. Of the 180 patients who returned to the emergency room with strokes, 91 of 180 of the patients suffered strokes within two days of having a TIA.
"Our results indicate that the short-term risk of stroke and other adverse effects among patients who present to an emergency department with a TIA is substantial," conclude the researchers. Their study, which is the first large-scale study on TIAs, is published in the December 13, 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Because the symptoms of TIAs are temporary, many people do not go to the hospital when those symptoms occur. However, Dr. Johnston says patients should seek immediate treatment, even if symptoms are transient. Of the patients in the study who suffered strokes or other adverse effects within 90 days of a TIA, 44 patients were hospitalized for cardiovascular events (2.6%), 45 patients died (2.6%), and 216 patients experienced recurrent TIAs (12.7%).
Dr. Johnston and his colleagues were able to identify a few additional risk factors for stroke among the patients who suffered TIAs. Those factors included:
Treatment of TIAs usually focuses on improving the arterial blood supply to the brain and preventing future strokes. A complete physical evaluation is usually performed. Patients considered at high risk for stroke may be admitted to the hospital after suffering a TIA while others may be treated as outpatients. Aspirin is the most commonly used medication to reduce clotting. Other medications may include dipyridamole, heparin, Coumadin, or others. Depending on the patients medical history, medical conditions, and other factors, additional treatments may also be given (such as treatments for blood disorders, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, dietary changes, etc.). Some patients may also benefit from carotid artery surgery (carotid endarterectomy), which involves removing fatty deposits and plaque from one of the two main arteries in the neck supplying blood to the brain.
Dr. Johnstons study suggests that further studies are needed to investigate better methods of treating TIAs to reduce the likelihood of future strokes. In the meantime, patients who experience symptoms of TIAs should seek immediate medical attention.