If you had an untreated transient ischemic attack, should you avoid driving, and if so, for how long?

I wondered about this, because I’ve witnessed what strongly appeared to be two TIAs of my elderly father—who denied this and thus, never sought medical evaluation and continued driving as always.

But that aside, it’s a fair question: What does it mean when a person who never received treatment for a TIA continues to drive?

“It’s usually recommended that a patient wait at least one month before getting back on the road after suffering from a TIA,” says Rob Lapporte, MD, board certified in emergency medicine and chief medical officer of Physician 360, a telemedicine service.

A transient ischemic attack is a medical emergency.

Many people don’t realize this, believing that an emergency requires gushing blood or some other visually dramatic situation such as a misshapen leg from a broken bone.

However, a TIA is a harbinger of a stroke—and a stroke can be fatal. Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and strikes about 800,000 Americans every year (cdc.gov/stroke/).

A TIA means that something is wrong in the person’s body, and it would be enormously erroneous to assume that a TIA is a one-time event, that it will never happen again. The second occurrence could be while the person is driving!

Dr. Lapporte continues, “That being said, anyone with a TIA or TIA symptoms (even if not officially diagnosed) should be cleared by his/her doctor before resuming activities like driving or operating heavy machinery.”

Symptoms Never to Ignore

Symptoms to be concerned about that warrant a prompt medical evaluation (ideally at an ER) are as follows:

  • one-sided weakness, clumsiness, paralysis, tremoring and/or numbness, including in the face
  • slurred speech
  • confusion or unresponsiveness despite apparent consciousness
  • blurry vision or what seems like a curtain coming over an eye
  • dizziness
  • really bad headache.

Headache and dizziness are particularly alarming if accompanied by any of the other said symptoms.

In a TIA (or stroke), these symptoms will have a sudden onset. By definition of a transient ischemic attack, they will last for minutes, possibly seconds, though sometimes a TIA will last for a few hours.

However, when it’s only minutes and especially less than one minute, a patient is more likely to brush it off as benign, stress-related or a side effect of medication, or even something related to getting old.

Suddenly feeling as though your body is being pulled to one side while you’re walking can also mean a TIA, as is a sudden feeling of heaviness on one side of your body.

If any of these symptoms happen to you just once, there’s no reason to think they won’t happen again. Imagine what would happen if these symptoms, even just one of them, struck you while you were driving.

A prompt medical evaluation can lead to treatment that will greatly reduce the recurrence of a TIA, and hence, give your family members peace of mind when you drive!

Dr. Lapportedr. lapporte has been practicing evidence-based clinical medicine in emergency rooms and urgent care centers for almost 20 years.