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A Warning Sign of Stroke

Sep 30, 2015

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

Reality TV star Kim Zolciak-Biermann says she is feeling better, and ready to be back on the floor of "Dancing with the Stars" after suffering a transient ischemic attack (TIA) last week. While she is ready to put the incident behind her though, she should be concerned about the possibility of a more serious health issue in the coming year.

What is a TIA?

"Approximately 11 percent (about one in 10) of patients with TIA suffer a stroke within 90 days and five percent (about one in 20) will have a stroke within two days of the TIA," says Jennifer Majersik, MD, chief of the Division of Vascular Neurology for University of Utah Health. "Thus, it is very important that patients with TIA see a physician who can appropriately evaluate and treat all of their risk factors after a TIA. As in Zolciak-Biermann's case, this often requires short-term hospitalization."

Zolciak-Biermann likely thought she was having a stroke at the time of her TIA last week. It's caused when the blood flow to the brain is temporarily blocked or restricted, typically by a blood clot in the artery.

TIA Symptoms

The symptoms are dependent upon which part of the brain is affected. For Zolciak-Biermann the symptoms included numbness on the left side of her body and loss of speech. The symptoms are the same in TIA and stroke - but in the case of a TIA, the symptoms completely resolve. "In most cases it's over within an hour," says Majersik, "though even temporary symptoms can leave permanent brain damage, again bringing home the point that TIAs reflect an active brain process that must be evaluated urgently." Specifically, as with a stroke, help should be sought within an hour of the event. "Recognizing symptoms of a TIA and seeking immediate treatment will reduce the risk of a major stroke in the future," says Majersik.

TIA Risk Factors

Zolciak-Biermann may be ready to dance, but unfortunately the rules of "Dancing with the Stars" say since she missed a show, she's out of the competition. Majersik says patients who have suffered a TIA or stroke should still try to stay active. "In addition to being great for cognitive health, and cardiovascular fitness, physical activity, particularly aerobic activity, decreases risk of future TIA episodes or a stroke," she says. Aggressively managing TIA and stroke risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, is also critical to reducing future risk.