A-Z

TIA and Minor Stroke

Symptoms of transient ischaemic attack (TIA)

The term ‘TIA’ is an abbreviation for ‘transient ischaemic attack’, (sometimes also known as ‘mini stroke’, but this phrase causes some confusion). The definition of a TIA is a sudden onset problem with the functioning of one part of the brain. It is caused by a temporary disruption in the blood supply to part of the brain. TIA symptoms occur rapidly and last a relatively short time but can last up to 24 hours and when they are over, it usually causes no permanent injury to the brain.

A ‘minor stroke’ is a longer-lasting problem, with mild but persisting symptoms. Whilst many people had heard of stroke, not everyone had heard the name TIA before they experienced one and did not always fully understand the difference between a TIA, minor stroke and a full stroke.

People we interviewed described the onset of one or several symptoms. These commonly included slurred speech or being unable to talk; numbness or paralysis; visual disturbances; and a feeling of disorientation. Not everyone experienced this, but those who did described this last symptom as feeling ‘disconnected’ from what was going on around them, as if they were in a dream, having an out of body experience, or hearing voices distantly. One person (see Adrian below) likened it to having his head in a goldfish bowl.
 

Michelle described the sensation she felt as like ‘brain fog’ and she was unable to translate her...

Michelle described the sensation she felt as like ‘brain fog’ and she was unable to translate her...

Age at interview: 28
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 26
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We’d been out gardening and we’d gone inside for a drink and I sat down on the sofa and I just felt completely fine one minute and the next minute everything just went black. I couldn’t see anything. I had like brain fog. You just couldn’t think, or, get the, I could get the thoughts but not the words to come out. I managed to get my mum’s attention and she could see that there was something wrong by my eyes, I don’t, I’m not quite sure how. And I just lay down on the sofa because I thought it was just like I was going to faint. And that lasted for about five to ten minutes. And I don’t really remember much but the next thing I remember was going to the hospital.

 

 

Other people notice that Stella goes blank sometimes but she is unaware of what’s happening for a...

Other people notice that Stella goes blank sometimes but she is unaware of what’s happening for a...

Age at interview: 82
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 81
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Deborah' Now in May, we were sitting outside talking to Mum, and Mum had sunglasses on and while we were talking, I realised Mum’s facial expressions hadn’t changed. I asked her if she was alright, and I took her sunglasses off and she was just [makes a blank face to illustrate]. When I asked her if she was alright - nothing. Mum couldn’t say anything and her expression didn’t change. So we got Mum back here and the medical staff came. And Mum came out of it. So again that was probably a minute or even two minutes at the most. And Mum just felt tired, but there wasn’t any confusion then, because it seems to me the short TIAs you can get through, but if they go on longer than five minutes, then—
 
Stella' They sap your energy.
 
Deborah'Yes, and the confusion might just be because Mum’s tired and whacked out from it.
 
Stella' Yes I’m staring, I know I’m staring into space.
 
Oh right, so you, that you’re aware that you’re not aware, as it were? That sounds odd. But you’re aware that you’re just staring and...
 
Stella' Yes, because some of the carers say to me when I’m lying down and I’m looking up at them, and I’m looking at them, sometimes they say to me, “Why are you looking at me like that?” you see. So I’m staring at them. So I think it unnerves them.

 

 
For many people the first indication that something was wrong was finding that they were unable to speak or think clearly, and came on out of the blue with no warning.
 

Brian was filling out some paperwork when he suddenly found that he couldn’t write or think...

Brian was filling out some paperwork when he suddenly found that he couldn’t write or think...

Age at interview: 85
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 84
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It was one morning in June this year, 2010, my secretary was here. I was trying to fill in a form but I was also dictating a letter to her and some, somehow the words [laughs] started to get really jumbled. I couldn’t think what I was doing, but I wasn’t aware there was anything wrong except that for some reason I was being stupid. And so I tried to go and fill in a form that I’d already started and I knew I was making mistakes. So I tried to correct them and this made it much worse. And so I ymm, ymm,. ymm but finally I said to her in perfectly conventional English, “Oh for God’s sake, [secretary] clear off home, I don’t want, I don’t want you to see me in this stupid state.” The darling girl going by, went, went past Alison’s house, Alison, next door but one and said, “There’s something the matter with Brian.”
 
Alison came round immediately and I was saying, “[meaningless words]” So she, she’s the brightest of ladies, present company accepted of course, she immediately phoned the hospital and they sent an ambulance around.
 
Now one of the delights of living here is that we’re not only near the cemetery whe... [laughs] we’re near the hospital too. And in tow minutes the paramedics were here with their ambulance. And they were so pleased with themselves that they’d got here in two minutes.
 
So they picked me up as I understand it. I don’t know that I actually recall this but I, I was told they picked me up, carried me into the ambulance and as they were strapping me down I said to the guy, “Oh Jesus, that was weird. Whatever was it. Oh, thank God I’m talking English again.” And, and it was over.

 

 

Adrian was sitting on the sofa and was suddenly unable to speak to his wife or tell her what was...

Adrian was sitting on the sofa and was suddenly unable to speak to his wife or tell her what was...

Age at interview: 53
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 53
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I was unaware of having a stroke or that there was anything wrong with me until my partner knelt down in front of me and told me I was having a stroke. I didn’t feel ill. I felt no discomfort and no pain. Nothing. My partner was kneeling in front of me with the telephone in her hand, telling me that I was having a stroke. And... I tried to respond but … it didn’t work, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was trying to respond with, because I’d forgotten what speech was. I could make a noise. And I knew I wanted to do something. But I would liken to it to having your head put in a goldfish bowl. Because there was this, I was separated from her. And I was totally unable to communicate and she was trying to calm me down, as she spoke to the paramedic and as she was speaking to the paramedic it began, I began to make more of a noise and my speech returned but very slurred, and periodically I was losing my right arm. I was unable to move my right arm.
 
By the time the paramedics got here, I could hold, nearly hold a conversation with them. And after about 20 minutes when they took me out in the ambulance and they were asking me questions.
 
And it came like waves when I was in the ambulance. One minute I was there, and the next minute I wasn’t. And it was the same with my arm. I sat in the ambulance and I lost my arm completely, and it just wouldn’t function, and it was just like it was somebody else’s arm somehow. And then all of a sudden it was all back.
 
And by the time they put the ECG on and done all the blood tests and give me the oxygen, by the time we left to get to[hospital], I was three quarters of the way back, and feeling... odd rather than ill. I still felt like I had the goldfish bowl on my head, but by the time I got to the [hospital] I was fine.

 

 

Keith had returned from a short break away with his family and found himself feeling...

Keith had returned from a short break away with his family and found himself feeling...

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 58
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I’d been on holiday to Centre Parcs of all places and, and returned in the afternoon and had a, an afternoon nap after driving back from, from Longleat and something to eat sitting on the sofa at, this very sofa, and was talking to my wife and suddenly I just couldn’t formulate words. Words wouldn’t come out of my mouth, my wife asked me a question I just simply couldn’t answer. sounds came out but it didn’t make any sense. And also I couldn’t, I knew what I wanted to say but I just couldn’t think of the words to say what I wanted to say. And that was the first sign.
 
I was feeling a bit tired because it, it had been a very good holiday really, we’d had a good time and driven back and but nothing worse than that and just suddenly couldn’t speak. So I stood up in alarm I suppose, feeling a bit leaden but nothing worse than that and couldn’t speak and, and couldn’t speak and obviously my wife was becoming concerned because she could see something was wrong.
 
I then moved to this side of the sofa and looked out of the window and it looked as if the window had slipped to the left, moved to the left, strangely, and was fuzzy round the outside. And I sat down or rather slumped down, this side of the sofa, as I am now I suppose really, and gradually, very gradually, within minutes my voice came back, I could speak again. Albeit slurred, I could speak again. But when I was standing I couldn’t put words together and couldn’t think of, couldn’t think of the words that I needed to say, which was a curious mixture.
 
Gradually the words came back.
 
In the meantime my wife and son had called the ambulance immediately. And I should imagine within, I’m not absolutely sure but with five or ten minutes they were here. It seemed quite quick.
 
As I was sitting here and my speech was gradually coming back, I could feel, now I don’t know whether this was imagination or, or, or whether it was real, but it, it felt as if, I didn’t have a pain around my heart, but certainly there was weight there. It was as if it was gradually, like the Monty Python foot was pressing down on, on my heart and increasing pressure there. Not desperately uncomfortable but just there.

 

 
In some cases people described losing spatial awareness and the ability to judge distances.
 

When Phillip woke up one morning he had trouble controlling his hand and arm and recalled, ‘it...

When Phillip woke up one morning he had trouble controlling his hand and arm and recalled, ‘it...

Age at interview: 72
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 71
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It was early last year, eighteen months ago, and when I woke up in the morning, my left hand, it felt a bit odd. It was as if I had been lying on it. A little bit of numbness and tingling in my fingers. And then I realised that I could feel the weight of my arm. Normally you’re, you completely compensate for the fact that your arm has weight. You just don’t realise as you move your arm around that it’s heavy. But suddenly I realised how heavy my arm was. And also I thought, “Well, I just slept on it”, right? And I sat up and had a cup of tea and it was already starting to fade away, the symptoms were vanishing. But I did have a problem with holding things, not holding things, but if, normally when you close your eyes, you can shut your eyes and you can put your finger more or less on your nose, like so. You know where your hand is. But in this case I didn’t. If I looked at my hand, I could easily pick up my coffee and I could put it down again. But if I wasn’t looking at my hand, I really wasn’t too sure where it was. I think this is called perception and it had just disintegrated.
 
It was a bit worrying, but in three or four hours it had essentially completely gone. I cycled into town, that was working okay. I had my coffee. And by the evening there was a sort of residual symptom, a little bit of, still a little bit of inaccuracy in my hand placement, and a slight sense of difference in my fingers.
And [name], my wife came home from work and, you know, she’d seen this in the morning and I explained I still had a little bit. And she sort of worried and said, “Look, you need to go and see your GP.” So the next morning I went to see my GP and I explained what this was. And it’s a tribute to the National Health Service that you can actually do this. I mean I can call them up in the morning and say, “Look, I think I’ve had this episode” and they say, “Come right in.”
 
And she, she said she thought I’d had a stroke. And I was very fortunate because the practice I go to is a part of the [name] stroke study. And so she called up the [hospital] and they arranged for me to come and visit them at 2 o’clock in, 2 o’clock that afternoon. And so at 2 o’clock I went over there. And by now the symptoms had essentially vanished. I might have had some, but it just might have been, you know, you keep thinking about this, and when you think about things you think they’re there anyway.

 

 
Losing the ability to speak and think left people feeling scared and confused about what was happening to them. People described the feeling of wanting to say something but not being able to get the words out, or of thinking of what they wanted to say but not being able to articulate their thoughts coherently. Many people found this experience to be quite frightening and upsetting.
 

Gilly collapsed at work and was taken to hospital where she found it difficult to understand what...

Gilly collapsed at work and was taken to hospital where she found it difficult to understand what...

Age at interview: 51
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 51
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The first time I realised anything was wrong was when I woke up and I had my head in the door jam at work. And all I could think of was, “What on earth has happened? Why is my face on the floor? And why does my shoulder hurt?” Closely followed by, “What’s happened with what I was doing at the time?” And I really didn’t know what was happening. I was very shocked. Didn’t know what to do. Didn’t know whether I should stay there or get up or anything. And I couldn’t seem to work out what was going on. I don’t really remember anything else about that at all. I remember going through my place of work, I can remember getting into a car. I can remember my manager being fairly directive and saying, “Do this. Do that. Get your bags. Walk here. Walk there.” And I don’t really remember anything then till we got to the hospital.
 
She took the decision to take me because we were working near the hospital so it was easier and quicker just to go. I found, once we got to the hospital, I couldn’t really understand what they were saying at clerk in. Their voices seemed very strange, the words seemed very peculiar. I couldn’t really work out what they were saying and when I could work out what they were saying I couldn’t work out how to get a reply out back to them. And so what, I couldn’t really think about what they were saying to me because all I could think about was why I couldn’t talk properly. And that was really, really frightening. It was, it was very frightening. I was very glad I had my boss with me. And she sort of held my hand and did all the, the talking and the, you know, that sort of thing. And then we just waited, until we were seen and she did most of the talking.

 

 

David describes the way in which he knew what he wanted to say but the words would not come out...

David describes the way in which he knew what he wanted to say but the words would not come out...

Age at interview: 67
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 67
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Well it, it all began one April morning on … well it was a Monday and we’d just completed the very upsetting job of burying our old dog. He’d been with us for 14 years so of course both Shirley and I were extremely upset. We came in to have a cup of coffee. I sat down in my chair. And I think Shirley asked me a question and I tried to answer the question. But discovered that the words that I wanted were floating around, well to my mind they were floating around in a very large bubble. And when I tried to catch the words, they squeezed out from between my fingers. And it’s so real, it’s unbelievable how it’s coming back. But the words I just couldn’t hold them. I just couldn’t. And I couldn’t make any sense of anything. And I just didn’t know what was going on. I think I asked Shirley for help although I don’t really know I can’t really remember that. But I think I asked Shirley for help. And she came and knelt by the side of my chair and asked me what was the matter. And I tried to tell her but I couldn’t. I couldn’t say a word. And I was desperately frightened.
 
And then, as far as I remember, I start to talk reasonably well. It was very difficult to find the words. It was a bit like having a, a drawer with all the words you use in alphabetical order or, or in some sort of order that you, you know where they are and you can just use them but some clot had been into this drawer and used all the, my words and put them back in the wrong place.

 

 

John was at a work conference when he suddenly found he was unable to articulate thoughts and he...

John was at a work conference when he suddenly found he was unable to articulate thoughts and he...

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 58
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My incident occurred during a conference. I was attending a one-day conference, a technical conference, and during the morning session thought that I needed to speak to a couple of characters who’d presented papers, so at a coffee break approached one of them. I had a normal conversation, turned to speak to the other character, and lost the ability to speak, which was very confusing and quite perturbing. I literally couldn’t take the thought from my brain to my mouth and articulate what I wanted to say. That lasted for a few minutes. I had to turn away from the man I wanted to speak to, managed to stumble out something to the effect of, “I’ve lost the ability - I’ve lost my words for the day”, and went back to the place in the conference hall, sat and realised that something very strange had happened. It so happened that I was sitting next to a client of mine. So I was aware that I really couldn’t speak to him, because I didn’t want him to know that there was something odd. This would have had a business impact. But I was confident that if it was serious he would – he was a good man - take care of me. At lunchtime I phoned my office and asked my PA if she could get me an appointment with my GP. And early afternoon felt very tired, very hot. So left the conference, came back home. That evening I was disturbed by what had happened, but slept normally.

 

 
A common symptom that often came on suddenly and without warning was numbness or tingling sensations, in the face or limbs. This could be relatively minor – likened to pins and needles, or more severe loss of feeling. Weakness could also occur at the same time.
 

Clare tried to pick up a cup of coffee but couldn’t grasp it properly because her hand and arm...

Clare tried to pick up a cup of coffee but couldn’t grasp it properly because her hand and arm...

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 48
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And I can remember wanting to act normally because they kept looking, because everyone kept staring at me. And I had a cup of coffee on my table. And I went to pick it up with my left hand and where you automatically can pick up a cup of coffee I couldn’t do it. So I just wasn’t fazed by that, I just picked up it up with my right hand. And but I just didn’t feel like I, I wanted a cup of coffee then. And then I had some sausage roll in my mouth and my husband who was in the room with me at the time, took the sausage roll out, literally out of my mouth because I couldn’t swallow.

 

Often when this type of temporary numbness occurred people were unsure about what was happening as the symptoms can seem to be relatively trivial. One man described the way in which he woke up and his arm and hand were numb, as though he’d been lying on it whilst asleep and he’d woken up with pins and needles (see Phillip above). In some cases the loss of movement was more severe resulting in temporary paralysis which could feel very frightening especially as it came on suddenly and without warning.
 

Rich was about to drive home when he found he couldn’t move his left arm or leg.

Rich was about to drive home when he found he couldn’t move his left arm or leg.

Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 62
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I was working in [home town]and I decided to meet a colleague of mine for lunch at my golf club as she was travelling up from [city] to go across to head office in [different town]. We had our lunch said our goodbyes but to get out of the golf club she had to go through a security barrier. So she went in front of me in her car. Stopped, I let her out. And I walked to my car. As I walked back to my car I tripped. I looked at, I don’t know what it was, did I trip on the stand, I got in the car, drove it up to the barrier, swiped the card and proceeded to drive off. Where’s my left leg and arm gone? I couldn’t move the car. It was on the brake but I managed to move it and drive out of the gold club and driving along and there was somewhere I could park. So I just parked up. Oh Christ, what on earth’s the matter with me? And I wondered whether or not it was I’d trapped a nerve because I’d actually had some back trouble recently.
 
Anyway I was slumped in the car against the arm rest. I couldn’t move. But fortunately I had hands free in the car on the steering wheel. So I dialled in and I knew my daughter was in [home town] and she’d got her own car and was about to go to work. And this was about I guess 1-ish, half past one. So I rang and I said, “I’ve got a problem. Can you come to the golf club?”
 
I rang her and asked if she could come to the golf club because I couldn’t move my arm and leg. I said, “Don’t rush, no panic, I’m perfectly OK”. And I’m talking like I am now. Anyway, she arrived and we had a bit of a laugh because we were parked, little girl, and she’s blonde looking into a car, an old boy kind of slumped, you know, lunchtime, ha, ha!
 
Anyway, I can’t move it. I’ll get an ambulance. So she rang for the ambulance and the ambulance eventually came. Two paramedics came out and “What’s the matter Mr [surname] I said, “I can’t move my left arm and I can’t move my left leg.”

 

A few people said they collapsed after losing consciousness, which sometimes meant that they had very little memory about what had actually happened.
 

Vernon was unable to fit his car keys in the lock, then soon afterwards collapsed.

Vernon was unable to fit his car keys in the lock, then soon afterwards collapsed.

Age at interview: 94
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 92
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Well, I can’t remember anything about it, but what happened was we, my wife and I were going to visit a friend who does hairdressing, and I’d just washed my hair so that it would be reasonable, and I’d gone out, went out to the car, and first thing - well, I don’t remember anything about it. But I was, opened up the garage our end, and I was, according to my wife she’d been wondering where I was. Eventually, having shouted all round the house and the garden, couldn’t find me, thought, “Well, he must be in the garage.” So she came and looked for me and she found me, and I’d got the door key of the car in my hand, and I said, “I can’t find the keyhole. Can’t get the key in the hole.” And she thought, well, that something was wrong. And she obviously came up beside me, and as she came beside me I understand that I gradually collapsed down on to the floor. She then wondered what on earth to do, and rushed across the road to see if there was somebody in the house opposite, but there wasn’t. She then got on the phone for an ambulance,

 

 

George said he couldn't speak or move and he found himself dribbling.

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George said he couldn't speak or move and he found himself dribbling.

Age at interview: 77
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 71
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What actually happened when I had my stroke, I went for a short walk around the village. Got back here about quarter to six, sat on the settee, watched the Central News. There wasn’t any pain or anything, nothing whatsoever. My wife went to get the tea at half past six. I normally make a pot of tea at that time. And she called me to say the kettle was boiling. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. I dribbled. I was just paralysed on the settee all down my left side with no warning or anything, it just came on.

 

Whilst this loss of movement was usually temporary or even fleeting, there were some people who found that their mobility was impaired for some weeks afterwards.
 

Rich kept a diary of his recovery during his stay in hospital which shows that he gradually...

Rich kept a diary of his recovery during his stay in hospital which shows that he gradually...

Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 62
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I’m looking here now, there are no dates because, oh here we are, week commencing 3rd, about a week afterwards, there we are, week commencing 3rd April ‘actual wrist movements’, ‘finger and wrist movements’, this is the week. ‘Finger and wrist movement – now able to bend able and touch nose’. That’s within, let’s say two weeks. ‘Independently carrying out finger exercises’ ‘Stood for the first time that week’. But I, I, I remember one night terrible ankle, God, my left ankle. The pain. And they sent me from, for an x-ray because, “Did you fall over?” I was asked. I said, “No, I don’t, I tripped.” “Well we’re not sure whether you’ve broken your ankle”. So I remember that. This is almost like my notes here. And … no, ‘Within standing’, within the first week I sat out of bed for half an hour in a wheelchair. That was kind of two weeks after the event. Then I sat out for lunch. ‘He has now been sat out for 72 hours, much improvement’ ‘Has now been sitting up for three hours’, so, you know, I was like that, and so for gym session, that, this is the first week, and then the Thursday, ‘Stood for the first time

 

 

Russell was confused and felt that something was wrong. He had problems walking and stayed in...

Russell was confused and felt that something was wrong. He had problems walking and stayed in...

Age at interview: 77
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 76
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Russell' I did have trouble in walking, I think …
 
RF' Yes.
 
Russell' … during the, I walked into the hospital, I didn’t need it then, but I think by the end of the day I couldn’t walk, I was confined to bed. But I think that only took a day, by the second day I could manage to get about …
 
RF' No, they have, he had physiotherapy.
 
Russell' Yes.
 
RF' And he was not discharged until he was able to walk up and down stairs.

 

Visual disturbance was another common indication that something was wrong. Most of the visual problems that people experienced lasted for a very short while and their vision has not been affected on a long term basis. Several people experienced visual disturbance whilst they had been watching TV in the evening, maybe noticing that the picture seemed out of focus or fuzzy. One man described the way in which he was looking out of the window and suddenly everything seemed ‘fuzzy round the edges’.
 

Angus had two short episodes which were confirmed as TIAs. During the second one he partially...

Angus had two short episodes which were confirmed as TIAs. During the second one he partially...

Age at interview: 61
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 60
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I had two TIAs at the beginning of December 2009. The first one I was actually sat in the room where we are now, talking to my wife about Christmas dinner, and I just couldn’t talk any more. Just as quick as we are talking now it just, my voice, my speech went. I immediately knew what it was and wrote on a piece of paper, “stroke,” to my wife and she was in the process of going to ring for an ambulance and go through the process of 999 etc, when my speech come back, as quick as that, and come back, well, as it is now. And of course, it come back, I didn’t really do nothing about it straight away because I thought, “Oh, it couldn’t have been that, it’s something else, and I’ll just get in touch with my GP and make an appointment.” Which we did, and I had an appointment for the next day. I went to see my GP and he confirmed that I had a TIA, this was the first one I had. He then told me that I should go for further tests, and basically that was it with the doctor. I come back home, where I had a second TIA the next night, where I went partially blind in one eye, my right eye, it lasted for about 20 minutes, and this time rung the doctor immediately - not the hospital or an ambulance but the doctor - who confirmed that to come down and see him, which we did, confirmed that it was a second TIA.


I never really understood what strokes were. You always think of people paralysed and things like this, but it’s not. It’s these TIAs, these mini strokes or minor strokes, they affect you in such different ways, and every person you talk to, it’s affected them differently. Maybe it’s just the use of a hand, even, you know, or in my case my voice and my sight in one eye, you know.

 

 

Ann felt ‘woozy’ and ‘disjointed’ and had trouble focusing with her right eye

Ann felt ‘woozy’ and ‘disjointed’ and had trouble focusing with her right eye

Age at interview: 79
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 72
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This one that I had when I was in the house, the recent one, it was, I put in my diary a feeling of wooziness, which I don’t think probably describes things very well. Disjointed, not really, not functioning at all, but it didn’t last very long. I mean it was probably a matter of minutes. Does that answer the question?
 
Did you feel any of the numbness or vision problems or just…?
 
You’ve reminded me that certainly before that one I thought that either I hadn’t cleaned my glasses properly, because the right eye didn’t seem to be focusing, and I don’t think it was my glasses, I think the right eye was not focusing. And it’s alright again now.

 

 
Other symptoms that people experienced included headaches, a feeling of weight or pressure around the chest and heart (see Keith above) short term memory loss, loss of hearing, feeling lethargic, or just a general feeling that things weren’t quite right.
 

Ros had a headache for a few days that wouldn't go away, and felt generally unwell but didn't...

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Ros had a headache for a few days that wouldn't go away, and felt generally unwell but didn't...

Age at interview: 69
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 69
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Well the first think that I noticed was that I had a headache and it went on for three days. But on the fourth day I needed to go out to get some food. I didn’t feel very well but nothing that worried me. So I went to the supermarket. I got the trolley and immediately I couldn’t control the trolley. It was, it was going to the left all the time and I was bumping into things. And at this stage I was feeling not well at all. I got myself to the till and then I collapsed at the till. And I felt, also felt sick at the same time.
 
And I was just slumped over and a supervisor called for an ambulance and the ambulance were there very quickly. I still felt sick but I wasn’t sick.

 
Generally the symptoms lasted only a short time, and things returned to normal fairly quickly. Many of the people we interviewed said that they weren’t sure whether what was happening to them was serious, as their symptoms could easily be mistaken for something else. For example, a headache could be associated with the onset of migraine, or light headed dizzy feelings could just be a sign of tiredness (see ‘Delay in seeking help for a TIA’). Visual disturbance was something that people least associated with stroke-like symptoms - many knew about paralysis of limbs or face and speech loss but did not realise that visual problems could also be a sign of a TIA or stroke. A lot of people thought some of the symptoms were similar to being drunk, because of the slurring of words and loss of control.
 

Rosemary described the onset of symptoms when her husband experienced his TIA ‘as if he was drunk...

Rosemary described the onset of symptoms when her husband experienced his TIA ‘as if he was drunk...

Age at interview: 73
Sex: Female
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We’d been out in the afternoon and came back, and it was a wet afternoon, so we came in and settled down, had a meal. My husband sat down and went off to sleep, in rather a deep sleep. And he woke up and he put the television on to watch the evening news and about seven o’clock, as it was finishing, he looked as if there was something wrong with him, and I said, “Are you all right?” And he said, “My head’s gone a bit funny. My eyes are funny. Everything’s gone sort of muzzy.” So, having experienced him having a heart attack, I began to think, “Is it something with the heart?” And he went to move and couldn’t get out of the chair. So I said, “What were you going to do?” He said, “Take my blood pressure.” So I said, “Well, I can do that.” So I got the blood pressure machine and took that, and that was quite normal. And he then said was it hot in the room? And I said, “Not particularly. It’s just comfortable.” And he said he felt very hot and sort of not co-ordinating properly. And he then got up to move, because his chair’s quite near the radiator, so he moved across the room to the settee where I’m sitting, and he had a job walking across the room. It was just as if he was drunk, sort of wavering about walking.

 

 
Many of the people we interviewed had not heard of TIA before they had their episode, and were shocked to discover that they had indeed experienced a mild form of stroke. Some people were able to recognise that something potentially serious was happening to them through their knowledge of the FAST campaign that has been on TV (see ‘Understanding TIA/Minor stroke’), or through knowledge of friends and relatives who had suffered from strokes, but many people commented that their symptoms were not as easily recognisable as those illustrated on the TV advert.
Most people recovered completely after their TIA or minor stroke, but some were left with symptoms of varying levels of severity (see ‘Life after TIA/ minor stroke).
Whilst for some, the TIA episode was a ‘one-off’, there were people who experienced a second, or even a series of episodes. Some people described similar symptoms on each occasion, whereas others had different symptoms and did not necessarily realise the episodes were connected.
 

Martyn had two TIAs, the first one affected his hearing and he had tingling feelings in his arms,...

Martyn had two TIAs, the first one affected his hearing and he had tingling feelings in his arms,...

Age at interview: 64
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 57
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I was at work in - I was a head teacher in Surrey and I was we were having a meeting about Christmas preparations and I had sort of a funny sort of tingling in my right arm and my hearing changed and I felt it as a weird sensation, I thought, “What’s happening to me?” I didn’t really know. So it, what I did was, I stopped the meeting and we adjourned and later I rang the doctor and the doctor said, “That might have been a TIA. Take a junior aspirin.” As they were called in those days, 75mg. So I went and got some aspirins from Boots in town and did that. And then, and that was that.
 
And then a few days later I saw the GP and we talked about it and I, she then was going to do some investigations. I was retiring at this time, and this was in December. And about two weeks late, two weeks later, so I retired towards Christmas and then I was just, just, just turned Christmas, just into the New Year, beginning of January I think, it was January 03 in bed one morning, no problem, woke up, got up, got breakfast. Back to bed to eat my porridge, usual practice. Strange, looking at the TV in the bedroom I had like a split vision whereby part of the TV was down there and part was up there. So it was like it was on a sort of fault line.
 
And then Jean, my wife and I were talking as you do and she couldn’t get a straight answer out of me and I realised I couldn’t give a straight answer to her questions and I wasn’t being awkward, I had difficult, I just couldn’t give a straight answer. And that was, lasted for, only for a minute or so, quite short, very quick. As was the first episode, very quick and very transitory. And then I went to sleep. And quarter of an hour later I guess, I woke up and I was fine.

 

 

Dennis had two episodes within a few days of each other, each time the symptoms were similar

Dennis had two episodes within a few days of each other, each time the symptoms were similar

Age at interview: 83
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 82
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I had had a busy Sunday in the garden, and at the end of the afternoon, feeling very self-righteous, I went and poured myself a whisky, and sat down to listen to a very noisy piece of music, quite relaxed, and at one point I wanted to move the CD case, only to find that my arm wouldn’t move. I thought, “What’s going on?” So I thought the first thing to do would be to turn off the hi-fi, and stood up, or rather tried to stand up, and found that I couldn’t. So I eased myself down onto the floor, crawled across the floor, turned off the radio with my left arm, which was fine, and just lay there for a minute or so, and then all was well.
 
I stood up, went back, and my wife was in the kitchen at the time, so I thought, “Well, I don’t want to trouble her. All’s well again. I feel fine. One of those things.” And a few days passed. I felt perfectly fine, because I normally enjoy good health and continue to do so. And then on the Thursday evening we were both sitting on the settee watching television, and this was rather later in the evening, perhaps about ten o’clock. I made a comment about something that was happening on the TV, and my voice came out rather slurred and once again I found that my right arm was immobile.

 

 
After being diagnosed with a TIA some people felt that when they looked back, they may have experienced small episodes before that they hadn’t realised might have been either a TIA, or if not, could have been a ‘warning sign’ of a more serious episode.
 

Dennis felt that in retrospect he had experienced symptoms before that may have been an...

Dennis felt that in retrospect he had experienced symptoms before that may have been an...

Age at interview: 83
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 82
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In retrospect I realise that I might have had some indication of something that needed attention before. Occasionally, very occasionally, when I’ve been perhaps in the garden, I’d been busy and just stood up for a moment, and the world seemed to go round briefly, and took a few deep breaths and all was right again. And another feature was that occasionally I would experience double vision. I might be watching television and the picture would go woozy, and after ten seconds, normal vision would resume. Since I’ve been on the medication nothing like that has recurred. So I think it’s probably safe to assume that they were indications that something might be amiss.

 



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Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated
June 2017.
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