Don't ignore that `little dizziness'


TIA is very often a precursor to a more serious stroke.
The Mayo Clinic notes that about one-third of all Americans who experience TIA will have a stroke within 5 years.

You're standing in the supermarket, about to reach for the canned peas, when suddenly you feel a little dizzy. Perhaps even more frightening, arm you were trying to use to reach those peas feels numb. You step back, blink your eyes, shake your arm - and the world settles back into place. "I'm working too hard," you think. "I've got to slow down." That decided, you proceed with your shopping and to fulfilling the rest of this day's obligations.

There's no doubt that most Americans could do a better job of taking it easy. Stress management is tricky in our action-packed society. Still, that's NOT the focus of this report. (Don't worry. We'll cover that soon.) However, this article is to warn you about problem called transient ischemic attack or TIA for short, a condition can be a major predictor of stroke in your future.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a division of the National Institutes of Health, TIA "is just a like a stroke, except it lasts only a few minutes". It represents an interruption in the blood supply to your brain. That interruption may take the form of the following symptoms, according to NINDS:

* Numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.

* Confusion or difficulty in talking or in understanding speech.

* Trouble seeing with one or both eyes.

* Difficulty walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination.

The American Heart Association's "Guidelines for the Management of Transient Ischemic Attack" notes that approximately 50,000 Americans suffer TIA each year. That's a statistic to take seriously, say the experts, since TIA is very often a precursor to a more serious stroke. The Mayo Clinic notes that about 1/3 of all Americans who experience TIA will have a stroke within 5 years.

There are a number of risk factors that you can control so as to reduce your risk of TIA and that potential stroke. Among them:

* High blood pressure: Sustained high blood pressure (hypertension), says the Mayo Clinic, means you're 2 to 6 times more likely to have a stroke.

* Stress: Among other things, constant stress can raise your blood pressure.

* Smoking

* Diabetes: Especially uncontrolled diabetes, which can lead to the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries. These fatty deposits block the artery and impede the blood flow, leading to TIA and/or to stroke.

* High cholesterol: Another factor in creating those fatty deposits.

* Certain heart conditions: If you already have heart problems, talk to your doctor about your risk of stroke.

* Obesity: Being overweight increases your chances of developing many of the previous problems, including diabetes and hypertension.

* Sedentary lifestyle: If you're sitting a lot and rarely walking or exercising, you're increasing your risk.

* Excessive drinking: More than two alcoholic drinks daily can raise your blood pressure.

Of course there are factors you can't control. These include your family history (your risk of TIA or stroke is greater if a parent or sibling had such problems); your sex (men are somewhat more prone to stroke in their 50s and 60s; after that the risk evens out); your age (the risk goes up as you age), and your race (African-Americans and Hispanics are at greater risk).

If you fall into one or more of the categories in the last paragraph, then it's even more important that you take steps to control the arbitrary factors above. Whatever your status, if you experience symptoms of TIA, make sure not to ignore them. Your symptoms may go away in as little as an hour (though sometimes they last 24 hours), but NINDS urges Americans to seek medical care immediately. An evaluation with 60 minutes is necessary to identify the cause of the attack and determine appropriate therapy.

What is that therapy? It depends on the cause of the attack. If you're constantly stressed, it may be as simple as learning some relaxation techniques. Truly severe cases may require some type of surgery, like a balloon angioplasty, in which a balloon like device is inserted into the artery to open it.

In between, there are several medications available. Antiplatelet drugs make your blood cells less sticky, and thus less likely to cause clots. Plain old aspirin is one such drug. Other drugs, called anticoagulants, affect the clotting system. Warfarin falls into this category. At the time of this writing, participants are being recruited to find out whether aspirin or warfarin is more effective in preventing strokes. NINDS is looking for patients 40+, who've had TIA (or a non-severe stroke in 90 days). For more details, including contact information, check out the aspirin/warfarin trial on the Web, at


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