Monday, June 26, 2017

Things Called TIA (transient ischemic attack) ...
but Are NOT

In my recent post, I addressed some terminology such as TIA versus “mini-stroke” versus small stroke. A TIA means that the CAUSE of your symptoms was a lack of blood flow to some part of your brain that returned BEFORE permanent damage was done (which would be called a stroke). I see patients all the time that were told they had a TIA but retrospectively did not.

They may have had transient neurologic symptoms.... but the "I" in TIA (ischemic--lack of blood flow) may not have been the problem.
A key word above is: RETROSPECTIVELY. At the time of symptoms, the clinician who evaluated the patient may not have had all the necessarily tools to be completely sure, so erred on the potential diagnosis that allowed for more generous, non-debated testing per your insurance company, or that allowed for the more generous level of cautious concern (both for your benefit) in case you really are having a TIA that could turn into a stroke… Or the presentation is confusing and we just can’t know for certain at the time what the cause was; you may have risk factors for a TIA or stroke but just be having an anxiety attack, for instance. Or your medical situation is complicated; maybe you have risk factors for TIA or stroke and a history of complex migraines that can appear stroke-like.

But when I hear about a patient having a TIA, I keep these other possibilities lingering in my mind, and you should know about these mimics too. That doesn’t mean you should avoid going immediately to the ER if you are having stroke-like symptoms, since up to a 3rd of strokes are preceded by a TIA, often that same day (Most strokes DON'T give you a warning at all).
But AFTER you get out of the hospital, if there was some question of whether you really experienced a TIA, these things should be considered as well, primarily because it may have longer-term implications regarding what medications you are on or should be on.

In order, these are the most common mimics of TIAs:

Complex migraines

Syncope (passing out)

BPPV/peripheral vestibular disturbance (inner ear problem that causes dizziness or vertigo, sometimes with additional complaints like nausea, falling, mildly blurred vision, perceived change in hearing)

Seizure (usually simple or complex partial seizures, not the more dramatic generalized shaking kind)

Anxiety or a psychological cause otherwise

Transient Global Amnesia

Bell’s Palsy (weakness of one side of the face due to a viral insult to the 7th cranial nerve)

Peripheral nerve disease from various causes

Postural hypotension (brief diminished blood supply to your brain as you stand due to a heart or vascular issue in your body)


Viral illness

Cardiac arrhythmia (kind of the same issue as postural hypotension)

Multiple Sclerosis

Drug/Medication related


Parkinson’s Disease symptom fluctuation

Retinal/Ocular pathology

Spinal pathology

Trigeminal neuralgia