What you need to know:
- TIA is not rare
- TIA can cause sudden symptoms similar to a stroke.
- TIA does not last as long as a stroke does.
Forty-two-year-old Chris (not his real name) woke up one Monday morning hoping that his week would be as productive as any other.
The fitness fanatic, was oblivious of the life-changing health crisis lurking ahead. “I went to take a shower. Everything seemed normal until I walked towards the bathroom mirror. Suddenly, I could not walk. The right side of my body became numb,” he says, adding that the right hand was weak and he lost sight in his right eye.
He felt as though the right side of his face was droopy and his mouth had shifted sideways, something he confirmed when he looked in the mirror.
At that moment, Chris was unable to dial his phone and call for help. Luckily, his mother called. Although he could not pick up or talk, he mumbled a few words and his mother could tell something was wrong.
His family was worried and as soon as they got to his house their fears were confirmed. He could not express himself even in writing, a strange occurrence given that it was his profession. His family suspected a stroke and took him to a neurologist within Nairobi.
“But as we were waiting in the queue, I started feeling better. I could clearly see with my right eye, my speech was still slurred but I could pronounce words I couldn’t earlier in the day. My right hand started regaining strength, though I still could not write well,” he says.
Chris ended up seeing the neurologist and after a series of tests, he was diagnosed with transient ischaemic attack (TIA) or “mini stroke”. The condition is caused by a temporary disruption in the blood supply to part of the brain, cutting off oxygen.
Prescribed speech therapy
He is still on medication as he awaits further tests and evaluation by his doctor. “I still have difficulties pronouncing and writing some words, but the doctor prescribed speech therapy. But, generally, I am fine,” he says.
What Chris suffers from is not rare. Dr Judith Kwasa, a consultant neurologist and physician, says TIA can cause sudden symptoms similar to a stroke, such as speech and visual disturbance, and numbness or weakness in the face, arms and legs.
“The patient might notice that the face may seem to have dropped on one side. The person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have dropped. Additionally, the person may have difficulties raising their arms because of weakness or numbness, while their speech may be slurred, or the person may not be able to talk. They may also have problems understanding what is being said to them,” explains Dr Kwasa, who is also a lecturer at University of Nairobi.
But, she says, TIA does not last as long as a stroke does. Although the symptoms of a TIA resolve in a few minutes or hours, one needs to be assessed in hospital because it is usually a warning sign of a full stroke in future.
“As the name suggests, TIA is not permanent and the signs might disappear within 24 hours,” she adds.
In the early stages of a TIA, Dr Kwasa says, it is not possible to tell whether you are having a full or minor stroke. That is why a patient needs treatment within 24 hours of the onset of the symptoms.
“An assessment can help doctors determine the best way to reduce the chances of that happening, so go to a good facility. I am insisting on this because not many outpatient facilities are well equipped to deal with this situation,” she adds.
Smoking and obesity
The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association suggest that about one in three people who has a transient ischaemic attack, will eventually have a stroke. About half of these occur within a year after the transient ischaemic attack.
And while further data suggests roughly 10 per cent of patients with TIA will suffer a stroke within 90 days, there is no clear data to show the extent of this condition in Kenya, or even worldwide.
“This is bearing in mind that in most cases it resolves on its own, thus a good number of people do not seek medical intervention. When worse comes to worse and it becomes a full blown stroke, it is difficult to document that this warning sign was even there,” explains Dr Kwasa.
Dr Kwasa says there are certain things that can increase the risk of a TIA, including smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, regularly drinking an excessive amount of alcohol, having diabetes and family history among other things.
She says while seeking medical intervention is important in preventing a TIA from developing into a full blown stroke, more focus should be on preventative measures.
“This means lowering the risks of having a TIA in the future, by maintaining a healthy body weight, doing regular exercises, eating a healthy, balanced diet, limiting alcohol intake, and quitting smoking,” she adds.