Stroke And TIA: What’s The Difference

Strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are similar in that they deprive blood flow to the brain, causing temporary or permanent side effects depending on the situation. 

Because stroke and TIA risks increase significantly every year after 55, your risk of stroke doubles every ten years. Seniors and their caregivers should know the difference between the two as well as what to do if a loved one experiences a stroke or TIA in their presence.

Difference Between A Stroke And TIA

Strokes are divided into three different categories:

  • Hemorrhagic stroke
  • Ischemic stroke
  • Transient ischemic attack

All strokes involve the blocking of blood flow to the brain, but the severity of a stroke or TIA depends on multiple factors. Because different areas of the brain control different processes, the side effects of a stroke are tied to which part of the brain is affected by the bleeding.

Hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes can be fatal and can have long-lasting effects – including:

  • Slurred speech or the inability to speak at all
  • Slower or uncoordinated movement
  • Partial or total paralysis (usually on one side of the body)
  • Amnesia (lack of memory)
  • And so on.

TIAs are different in that the effects at the time – and shortly after that – are like a stroke. However, the blockage clears up on its own and relatively quickly. Therefore, TIAs are not fatal and the side effects are usually only temporary. That said, repeat TIAs have a cumulative effect and adults who experience TIAs are at higher risk for having a more serious stroke.

Hemorrhagic stroke

When someone suffers a hemorrhagic stroke, there is a bleed in our around the brain. The hemorrhage can be small or large. When a blood vessel is hemorrhaging, the blood supply is cut off, damaging brain cells. Hemorrhagic strokes are the least common type of stroke, comprising about 13% of all strokes in the United States.

While hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes have the same symptoms (more on that below), even the most astute physicians can’t tell which type of stroke a person has without brain imaging. If the stroke is hemorrhagic, it’s treated using medications that control blood pressure and reduce swelling in the brain. Some brain bleeds are treated using surgical procedures.

Ischemic stroke

About 87% of all strokes are ischemic and involve a blood clot somewhere in the brain’s vascular system. The clot restricts and blocks blood flow, which compromises the body in the same ways as a hemorrhagic stroke. However, treatment is quite different.

In the case of an ischemic stroke, the goal is to thin the blood to break up the clot and restore blood flow to the brain. This is done with an IV medication medicine called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). The sooner this or other anti-clotting medicines are given after initial symptoms, the better the potential outcome.

Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

TIAs are commonly referred to as “mini-strokes” because they operate in the same way as an ischemic stroke, but they clear up on their own. Sometimes they’re not even noticed, other times they present like a stroke, but symptoms fade once the temporary blockage clears. 

A single TIA is not fatal. However, having a TIA elevates your risk of having a stroke as well as another TIA. Repeat TIAs can create a cumulative effect and may cause more permanent damage than a single TIA, depending on how frequently and for how long they occur. This is why the American Stroke Association calls TIA a “major warning call.”

After a TIA episode, doctors typically prescribe medications knowns as anticoagulants (blood thinners) to minimize the risk of future TIAs or strokes. 

Also, anyone who has a TIA should look at making significant lifestyle changes to support healthy lifestyle changes since most of the risk factors are rooted in things like high blood pressure, type two diabetes, and heart disease.

The symptoms of a stroke and TIA and stroke are rooted in the disruption of blood flow to the brain.

Recognizing Stroke Symptoms Saves Quality Of Life

The better able you are to recognize the symptoms of a TIA or a stroke, the less severe the effects will be. Strokes can be fatal, but more often, they are debilitating and forever alter a stroke patient’s quality of life. And as you can imagine, the spouse and family caregivers of anyone affected by a stroke also experience a lifestyle change. 

Recognizing the signs of a stroke and immediately calling 911 is essential to restoring blood flow and minimizing long-term effects. 

Signs or symptoms of a TIA or stroke

The most common signs that a person is having a TIA or stroke are:

  • Weakness, numbness, or paralysis on one side of your body
  • Slurred speech or difficulty understanding others
  • Blindness in one or both eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Severe headache with no apparent cause

With a TIA, these symptoms may only last a few minutes and then disappear. Even so, an emergency room visit is essential to assessing the situation, confirming it was a TIA, and starting treatment to minimize the risk of another one.

If the episode was caused by a TIA, your physician will refer you to a neurologist for follow-up and to assess future stroke risk. 

Healthy Lifestyle Choices Prevent TIA Risk 

Again, while genetics play a role, lifestyle choices are the biggest contributing factor to whether or not someone has a stroke. The risk factors for stroke include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Smoking

Committing to a healthy diet and daily exercise go a long way toward preventing a TIA or stroke. If a senior loved one lives alone, consider hiring a part-time caregiver to support their well-being via grocery shopping, meal preparation, and companionship – all of which help seniors with a health and happiness-first lifestyle.

HomeAide Home Care Helps Seniors Make Healthy Choices

Are you worried your senior loved one isn’t taking good care of themselves? Are you a spouse or family caregiver who could benefit from time off or support with the daily household chores? Contact HomeAide Home Care to schedule a free, in-home assessment.

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