The number of Americans who suffer from a transient ischemic attack (TIA) will blow your mind. You could have been one of them and not even known it.

A recent survey from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association says that one in three Americans have had a TIA.

The AHA/ASA survey went out to 2,040 U.S. adults, and 35 percent reported having had at least one sign of a transient ischemic attack.

Keep in mind that the one out of three figure may be an under-representation because a person could have a very brief TIA and blow it off as something benign.

For example a person over age 65 (one of the risk factors) could suddenly feel a little off-balance when walking, as though his body is being pulled to one side.

He could easily attribute this to age rather than a temporary blood clot in the brain. He might blame it on a bad night’s sleep or side effect of medication. A TIA may never enter his mind.

The briefness of a TIA is not indicative of the urgency of the situation. In other words, a TIA that lasts a few minutes is just as much a harbinger of massive stroke as is a TIA that lasts 12 hours.

“Ignoring any stroke sign could be a deadly mistake,” notes Mitch Elkind, MD, in the survey report.

The report continues: “If you or someone you know experiences a stroke warning sign that comes on suddenly — whether it goes away or not — call 9-1-1 right away.”

A doctor in the ER never says, “You’ve had a TIA, but it’s gone now; go home and call me if you have another one.”

Rather, a plan of prevention will be implemented. This may include a prescribed medication.

You have to wonder how many people, who have suffered a massive stroke, actually had a previous TIA or two or three and never alerted their doctor or went to an ER.

“Officially, about five million Americans have had a self-reported, physician-diagnosed TIA,” says Dr. Elkin in the report, “but we suspect the true prevalence is higher because many people who experience symptoms consistent with a TIA fail to report it.”

This failure, as previously noted, is due to lack of knowledge. But it can also be due to denial. Some individuals may already know about transient ischemic attacks, but refuse to believe that this can happen to THEM.

A TIA is an indicator of a greatly increased likelihood of stroke within 90 days. This information can be found in a pamphlet in a doctor’s office, yet 77 percent of the survey participants did not know what a transient ischemic attack was.