Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
What is a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?
Some people call a transient ischemic attack (TIA) a mini-stroke, because the symptoms are like those of a Reference stroke Opens New Window but don't last long. A TIA happens when Reference blood flow to part of the brain is blocked or reduced Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window, often by a blood clot. After a short time, blood flows again and the symptoms go away. With a stroke, the blood flow stays blocked, and the brain has permanent damage.
A TIA is a warning: it means you are likely to have a stroke in the future. If you think you are having a TIA, call 911 . Early treatment can help prevent a stroke. If you think you have had a TIA but your symptoms have gone away, you still need to call your doctor right away.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of a TIA are the same as symptoms of a stroke. But symptoms of a TIA occur suddenly and don't last very long. Most of the time, they go away in 10 to 20 minutes. They may include:
- Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or paralysis in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
- Sudden vision changes.
- Sudden trouble speaking.
- Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
- Sudden problems with walking or balance.
- A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.
What causes a transient ischemic attack?
A blood clot is the most common cause of a TIA. Blood clots can be the result of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), heart attack, or Reference abnormal heart rhythms Opens New Window. Brain cells are affected within seconds of the blockage. That causes symptoms in the parts of the body controlled by those cells. After the clot dissolves, blood flow returns, and the symptoms go away.
Sometimes a TIA is caused by a sharp drop in blood pressure that reduces blood flow to the brain. This is called a "low-flow" TIA. It is not as common as other types.
What tests do you need after a TIA?
Your doctor will do tests to look at your heart and blood vessels. You may need:
- Tests that show pictures of your brain and blood vessels, such as a CT scan, an MRI, a Reference magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA) Opens New Window, or an Reference angiogram Opens New Window.
- A test that uses sound to check your blood flow (Doppler ultrasound).
- An Reference echocardiogram (echo) Opens New Window to check your heart's shape and its blood flow.
- An Reference electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) Opens New Window to measure your heart rhythm.
- Blood tests, including a Reference complete blood count Opens New Window and a Reference fasting blood test Opens New Window to check for problems that could be causing your symptoms.
Your doctor will also check to see if something else is causing your symptoms.
How is a TIA treated?
Your doctor will start you on medicines to help prevent a stroke. You may need to take several medicines.
If tests show that the blood vessels (carotid arteries) in your neck are too narrow, you may need surgery to open them up (carotid endarterectomy). This can help prevent blood clots that block blood flow to your brain.
Another type of surgery is carotid artery stenting. During this surgery, the doctor puts a small tube called a Reference stent Opens New Window inside your carotid artery. This helps keep the artery open. Carotid artery stenting is not as common as endarterectomy.
How can you prevent another TIA or stroke?
After you have had a TIA, you are at risk for having another TIA or a stroke. But you can make some important lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk of stroke and improve your overall health.
Treat any health problems you have
- Manage high blood pressure or high cholesterol by working with your doctor.
- Manage diabetes. Keep your blood sugar levels within a target range.
- If your doctor recommends that you take aspirin or a blood thinner, take it. This can help prevent a stroke.
- Take your medicine exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
- Don't smoke or allow others to smoke around you.
- Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
- Stay at a healthy weight. Being overweight makes it more likely that you will develop high blood pressure, heart problems, and diabetes. These conditions make a stroke more likely.
- Do activities that raise your heart rate. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.
- Eat a balanced diet that is low in cholesterol, saturated fats, and salt. These foods can make hardening of the arteries worse. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Eat fish at least once a month.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about TIA:
Living with TIA:
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference February 7, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Reference Richard D. Zorowitz, MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation