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NEWS Improving and Protecting the Health, Well-Being
and Self-Reliance of All Montanans.

April 8, 2013
Contact:  Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936
              Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391

Stroke educator learns from TIAs

Knowing the warning signs of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a mini-stroke, is one thing; acting on them is quite another. Cliff Christian, Director of Government Affairs for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, found this out the hard way when he suffered his first TIA in 2010.

Christian had his first TIA while driving to work. He felt some confusion, slight vision problems and weakness for a brief period of time. Christian 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."
Since his first TIA, he has had three more mini-strokes. After the first experience, he knows not to ignore the warning signs. As soon as Christian noticed the symptoms, he went to the hospital to receive treatment.

The symptoms of TIAs are the same as for stroke: sudden weakness in the face, arm or leg; loss of balance or coordination; confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; and vision problems or severe headache. It is impossible to tell the difference between a stroke and TIA. The only difference is that symptoms from a TIA completely 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.

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.

For Christian, he 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."

The TIAs have taught Christian that knowledge means nothing without follow-through. When the signs are there, take action to get immediate treatment. His experience has also given him a different perspective on his job at the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. As he advocates for heart attack and stroke issues, he knows from first-hand experience the importance of educating the public about the warning signs, fast treatment and a healthy lifestyle to help save lives.

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

To learn more about stroke, visit http://www.strokeassociation.org or call 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653).


Page last updated: April 8, 2013