A Mini-Stroke: A Wake-up Call
I was preparing dinner one evening this past summer when I suddenly began to feel weak and dizzy. My vision blurred at the edges. I immediately texted my husband, who ran up from the lower level of our house and helped me sit down. For a few moments, my speech was slurred and I drifted in and out of consciousness. But it wasn’t long before all of my symptoms vanished and I was back to normal.
I had what is known as a TIA, or transient ischemic attack, often called a “mini-stroke.” I know now I should have called 911 right away, but instead I waited until the next day and went in to see my general practitioner.
After describing what happened, my doctor immediately ordered an EKG, a test that screens for problems in the heart, and referred me to a neurologist at the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center for more comprehensive testing. Over the next week, I had various tests. These included a CT (computed tomography) scan, an MRI, a cerebral angiogram, and a carotid ultrasound. With TIA, doctors want to make sure there isn’t blockage, bleeding, or permanent damage, so they covered all their bases with these tests.
My neurologist diagnosed the episode as TIA and explained that like any stroke, it’s caused by a clot or blockage in the brain. Unlike a stroke, however, a TIA episode typically leaves no lasting damage, but it is a warning sign that a full stroke could occur in the future. Fortunately, the results of all these tests were negative; my brain showed no lasting effects from the TIA.
With the goal of preventing any more TIA events or a full-blown stroke, my neurologist placed me on cholesterol-lowering medication along with a daily aspirin. He also recommended making some lifestyle changes like losing weight, increasing exercise, cutting out all alcohol, and reducing stress. I’m a researcher by trade, so I investigated the medical literature on TIA episodes to better understand what happened to me, the possible long-term impact to my health, and what options I had for treatment. This helped me feel more in control of my body and better able to grasp how I could move forward.
I recommend that anyone take initiative to research their condition. One piece of information I learned on my own was that an unexpected consequence of TIA is losing your driver’s license. I didn’t realize a person who has an event causing him or her to lose consciousness is immediately reported to the DMV. That person’s license is then taken away for a minimum of three months. Not being able to drive complicated my commute for a while, but it was a small price to pay in the scheme of life. Because I followed all of my neurologist’s recommendations and have been healthy since the initial event, I was able to regain my license.
Throughout this whole process, my healthcare providers have been amazing. I’ve been a patient of my primary care doctor for the last 15 years. He was originally my husband’s physician, so we’ve had a good relationship built over time. My husband found him online using a physician review site and referrals from colleagues at the University of California Medical School, where my husband is a dean. My general practitioner was able to recommend me to the neurologist who has been directing my care since the TIA. This neurologist has strived to make sure I fully understand my condition, its risks, and my treatment options. His clear communication and willingness to listen have made me feel confident in the decisions we’ve made for my care.
I’m one of the lucky ones. At 57, TIA has been the first significant medical concern in my life. I choose to look at it as a wake-up call. As I age, I’m likely to face other health hurdles, so it’s up to me and me alone to make the lifestyle changes that will help me live a healthier life.