By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Amanda Thompson was happy and the picture of good health. Life was good.
Then on March 14, 2015, she felt an “intense pain” at the back of her neck near the end of a body pump class at the gym.
“I couldn’t finish,” Thompson said. “I got in my car and a headache engulfed my whole head and then my right arm got super tingly, like there were ants crawling all over it.”
She was having a transient ischemic attack, or TIA, which is also called a mini-stroke and is caused when the blood supply to part of the brain is blocked temporarily. Thompson, then 38, didn’t know that at the time.
She knew something was wrong and thought she might have stroke symptoms. Upon arriving at her Plano, Texas, home, she went to lie down and her left arm and the bottom half of her face began to tingle.
She went to an urgent care center, which gave her a shot of the anti-inflammatory drug toradol, and referred her to a hospital emergency room. Thompson said the ER doctor gave her some drugs for a neck injury and sent her home.
“For two weeks, I just felt like I was in la-la land,” she said. “I couldn’t remember words or people’s name and I would put things away in the wrong place.”
Nearly two weeks later, her neck still hurt, so Thompson decided to get a massage. Immediately afterward, massage therapist Andrea Beckner noticed that Amanda’s face drooped on one side and she couldn’t pick up a pen.
TIA symptoms include face drooping, confusion, difficulty talking or understanding speech, and loss of coordination.
“I was very concerned,” Beckner said. “Amanda is a beautiful girl, healthy and fit; you would never think she’d have a stroke.”
Thompson’s symptoms disappeared within an hour, which is typical of TIA, but she made an appointment with her primary care doctor for the next day. After an MRI showed signs of mini-strokes, the doctor sent her straight to the ER, but tests showed her blood flow was normal, she said.
Thompson’s vascular neurologist Paul Hansen, M.D., thinks she suffered a full-blown stroke at some point.
About one-third of people who have a TIA eventually have a stroke – with about half occurring within a year. More women have strokes than men, and stroke is the third leading cause of death for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Thompson didn’t have any of the risk factors associated with TIA or stroke, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. Because the symptoms are similar for TIA and stroke, experts say patients should seek immediate emergency attention.
Stroke often follows different pathways in younger people, according to Hansen. He thinks Thompson may have had reversible cerebral vasoconstriction, when blood vessels become irritated and can restrict blood flow for a brief time for unknown reasons.
Thompson has fully recovered and said she’s under less stress. She’s following a recommended heart-healthy diet and low-impact exercise, replacing body pump with yoga. She takes daily aspirin and a calcium channel blocker to lower her blood pressure.
“I feel better,” she said. “I was lucky.”
Photos courtesy of Amanda Thompson