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Is it vertigo or a TIA?

June 15, 2004

Question : What is the difference between vertigo and TIA? How can I tell the difference?

Answer: Vertigo is a symptom of several disorders, whereas TIA is a mini stroke where dizziness/vertigo may possibly be one of the symptoms.

1) Vertigo is a disabling sensation in which the affected individual feels that either he/she or the surroundings are in a state of constant movement. It's most often a spinning sensation but there may be a feeling that the ground is tilting. It's usually a symptom of an inner ear problem, or a disturbance of the vestibular nerve or its nuclei in the brainstem that are involved in the sense of balance.

2) A transient ischemic attack (TIA) or 'mini-stroke' occurs when a blood clot temporarily blocks an artery. There is weakness or numbness in an arm, leg or one side of the face or body, possibly with disturbances of vision and speech. But the symptoms disappear quickly - sometimes in a few minutes and always within 24 hours. A TIA is, however, an important warning that the person is at risk of a full-blown stroke.

Hypertension is the most common cause of stroke. People with untreated high blood pressure are up to seven times more at risk than those with low blood pressure.

The warning signs of a stroke are:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, difficulty in speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble in walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden difficulty in seeing with one or both eyes
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause

For people who have had a TIA, important lifestyle changes are necessary to preserve optimum health and prevent further damage. One should adhere to a healthy diet, free of saturated fats and cholesterol, and containing plenty of fiber (as found in fruits, vegetables and cereals). Also of importance are: regular physical exercise, losing extra weight and maintaining normal weight, stress management, no smoking, and no more than 1-2 glasses of alcohol daily (red wine is best).


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