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Information from Your Family Doctor
Preventing Ischemic Strokes and Treating Transient Ischemic Attacks
Am Fam Physician. 1999 Nov 15;60(8):2341.See related article on ischemic strokes and transient ischemic attacks.
What is an ischemic stroke?
An ischemic stroke happens when a part of the brain doesn't get enough blood. Without enough blood, that part of the brain doesn't work right. The cause is usually a blood clot in an artery.
What is a transient ischemic attack?
A transient ischemic attack (sometimes called a TIA or a mini-stroke) happens the same way. The difference is that the symptoms of a TIA go away in 24 hours.
About one third of people who have a TIA have a stroke later. For this reason, you need to see your doctor quickly if you think you've had a TIA.
What is my risk of having a TIA or a stroke?
The following factors may increase your risk of having a TIA or a stroke:
High blood pressure
Drinking a lot of alcohol on a regular basis
Abnormal heart rhythm (for example, atrial fibrillation)
High cholesterol levels
Using birth control pills when you are over 35 years old and smoking
If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your family doctor. Keep in mind that you could have a stroke even if you don't have any of these risk factors.
What can I do to lower my risk of TIA and stroke?
Your doctor can decide if you need medicine to help prevent a TIA or stroke.
If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels or an abnormal heart rhythm, be sure to take any medicines that your doctor prescribes.
If you smoke or drink a lot of alcohol, you need to stop. Ask your doctor for help in making these life changes.
What are the signs of a TIA or a stroke?
A TIA and a stroke have the same warning signs. These signs usually start suddenly and can include any of the following:
Weakness or numbness, especially on one side of your body, or one arm or leg
Loss of vision or dimming of vision, especially in one eye
Trouble speaking clearly
A very bad headache with no known cause
Dizziness, unsteadiness or falling, with no known reason
If you have any of these signs, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency department right away. New treatments can reduce the effects of a stroke, but you have to take them within a few hours after the signs begin.
This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.
Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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