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Stroke educator learns from TIAs

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Cliff Christian suffered his first transient ischemic attack while driving to work. He felt some confusion, slight vision problems and weakness.

Christian, the Director of Government Affairs for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, pulled over and once the symptoms passed, continued on to work. It wasn’t until a later doctor visit that he learned he had suffered a TIA.

“I was embarrassed,” he said. “Working at the American Stroke Association, I knew the warning signs of stroke. However, I had heard the warning signs so much they became like wallpaper in the background.”

Christian has had three more mini-strokes, but after that first experience he knows not to ignore the warning signs. As soon as he noticed the symptoms, he went to the hospital for treatment.

While a TIA is not as severe as a stroke, it should not be ignored. A TIA occurs when there is a disruption of blood flow to the brain, usually caused by a blockage. Generally, TIAs can be a precursor to a major stroke. Like stroke, TIAs can be prevented.

Christian has changed his eating habits, is losing weight and watching his stress levels. High blood pressure and atrial fibrillation are the main causes of stroke and TIA – followed by smoking, diabetes and high cholesterol. Stress may contribute but is less of a true risk factor.

“I used to tease my wife about being a health nut,” he said. “Now, I understand how essential a healthy diet is, and I really watch what I eat. Before the TIAs, I never thought one would happen to me.”

Christian’s experience with TIAs gave him a different perspective on his job. As he advocates for heart attack and stroke issues, he knows from firsthand experience the importance of educating the public about the warning signs, fast treatment and a healthy lifestyle.

The stroke warning signs are:
– Sudden weakness of the face, arm or leg usually affecting one side of the body

– Loss of balance or coordination

– Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

– Vision problems or severe headache with no known cause

The only difference between a stroke and a TIA is that symptoms from a TIA resolve in less than an hour, resulting in no permanent impairment. Any stroke symptoms should be treated as an emergency – dialing 911 is always the best option.

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