She was on her way to answer the door when it happened. Minutes later, she found herself sitting on a chair in the front hall. What happened? Why was she there?
My mother didn’t know it, but she’d had a TIA, a transient ischemic attack.
TIAs are caused by a small blockage of blood in one of the tiny vessels in the brain. The blockage is insignificant and unlike clots, breaks up on its on. Stroke and TIA symptoms are similar but, whereas stroke impairments can last a lifetime or even cause death, TIA symptoms go away in minutes or hours.
The most common signs of a TIA are:
- Unusual confusion or memory loss. (Note the word unusual.)
- Weakness, numbness or tingling on one side or the other.
- Trouble speaking.
- Difficulty reading or writing.
- Unusually severe headache
- Unusual visual problems in one or both eyes
TIA’s are sometimes called mini strokes and may even feel like the real thing. So how can you tell the difference? By remembering that TIA symptoms last only a few seconds up to a minute or so and will most often disappear within an hour.
The day my mother had her TIA, a granddaughter happened by. Although mom had recovered nicely, the granddaughter called me, and I called the doctor. Here’s where it got sticky because there were a number of things I could choose to do.
Number 1. I could do nothing.
At the time, my mother was in her late eighties. She lived alone in her house where everything was familiar. She had day help a few times a week. By the time I arrived, she appeared fine though shaken by the experience.
Number 2. I could take her to the doctor. He would check her blood pressure, listen to her heart, do some routine tests, and be sure she was taking her meds. If he found anything suspicious, he would (a) order more tests or (b) send her the hospital.
Number 3. I could call 911.
Number 4. I could take her to the hospital where they would do a brain scan, an MRI, and an angiogram. Plus an echocardiogram, and EKG and an ultrasound to visualize her carotid arteries. If they suspected she had an undiagnosed heart condition, high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol they would do more tests.
Which option do you think I chose?
What would you have done?