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Diagnosing a Transient Ischaemic Attack

A transient ischaemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke, often acts as a forewarning that a full stroke will soon occur. It is therefore vital that a TIA is diagnosed without delay, as treatment can be provided to help prevent further complications occurring.

How is a Transient Ischaemic Attack diagnosed?

A transient ischaemic attack occurs when a temporary fall in blood supply causes a lack of oxygen in the brain. This will result in symptoms very similar to a full stroke, only they do not last for quite as long. These symptoms, which usually alleviate within 24 hours, include:-

  • A face that uncontrollably falls to one side;
  • An inability to raise one or both arms because of numbness or weakness;
  • Slurred speech;
  • Sudden loss of vision;
  • Dizziness;
  • Difficulty swallowing;
  • Problems with balance and co-ordination.

It is important that anyone who experiences these symptoms seeks urgent medical attention, even if their complaints have since subsided. Upon presenting to a GP or A&E department, doctors should immediately recognise the symptoms as being suggestive of a transient ischaemic attack. A neurological assessment should be performed and, if clinical investigations point to the likelihood of at TIA, the following course of action must be achieved by medical professionals without delay:-

1. Refer the patient referred to a specialist neurological unit. This appointment must be fulfilled within seven days of referral or within 24 hours for patient with severe symptoms.

2. Carry out investigative tests (blood tests, ECG, carotid Doppler studies, echocardiogram and a CT/MRI scan) to confirm a diagnosis.

3. Organise the appropriate course of treatment (usually medication and/or carotid endarterectomy surgery).

As long as the aforementioned steps are taken, a patient should not only recover from his or her TIA, but further transient ischaemic attacks and full strokes should also be prevented.

What if doctors fail to diagnose a Transient Ischaemic Attack?

However, there are unfortunately times when a GP or an A&E doctor fails to recognise the symptoms of a transient ischaemic attack, and therefore fails to refer a patient onto a neurological specialist. The effects of this inaction can be devastating, as there is a one in ten chance that a person who has had a transient ischaemic attack will suffer a full stroke within four weeks.

It is reasonable to expect a competent doctor to detect the signs of a TIA, and to appreciate the importance of a swift diagnosis and referral. A failure to refer a patient onto a specialist neurological unit therefore represents a clear breach of duty, as does the failure to perform diagnostic tests, the failure to make an accurate diagnosis and the failure to provide appropriate treatment.

If any of these medical errors has caused you or a loved one to suffer an injury, you will be the victim of medical negligence. To find out what to do next, you need to contact a medical negligence solicitor about making a compensation claim.

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