Transient ischemic attacks are treatable and preventable

For a few scary minutes, one side of Kevin Breslin's face went numb, and he couldn't see out of one eye.

Ten minutes later, he was back to normal. Breslin had just experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a mini stroke or warning stroke.

An estimated 200,000 Americans experience TIAs each year, and more than one-third will later have full strokes. But TIAs, like strokes, are treatable and preventable.

Breslin was evaluated by Dr. Jose Biller, a stroke and TIA specialist at Loyola University Health System. Biller determined that Breslin's TIAs were being caused by a clogged carotid artery. Biller immediately admitted Breslin, and the next day cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Mamdouh Bakhos removed plaque that was obstructing blood flow in Breslin's artery. Biller is chairman of the Department of Neurology, and Bakhos is chairman of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

"I averted what was a significant risk of a major and even life-threatening stroke," Breslin said. "I am a very lucky person."

Breslin, 55, experienced about 10 TIAs over several months before seeing Biller. One side of his face would go numb, as if it had fallen asleep. A few times, he lost vision in one eye. The symptoms would last 5 or 10 minutes, and then he would feel fine.

The carotid artery is the main artery in the neck that supplies blood to the brain and retina. Breslin's right carotid artery was more than 95 percent blocked by deposits called plaque. His TIAs occurred when tiny pieces of plaque broke off, traveled up to the brain and temporarily blocked blood flow. Breslin could have had a full-blown stroke at any time. All it would have taken would be for the artery to close up completely, or for a larger piece of plaque to break off and travel to his brain.

Bakhos performed a carotid endarterectomy, a surgical procedure that removes plaque from the lining of the carotid artery.

Breslin, an attorney who lives in Glenview, Il, said he initially put off getting treatment in part because he was so busy at work. In retrospect, he realizes he should not have ignored the symptoms. "Don't be as perilously foolish as I was -- don't put other less important things in front of your personal health and the family that counts on you," he said.

Source: Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine


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