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 stroke but don't last long. A TIA happens when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked or reduced, 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 . 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 abnormal heart rhythms. 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 magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA), or an angiogram.
- A test that uses sound to check your blood flow (Doppler ultrasound).
- An echocardiogram (echo) to check your heart's shape and its blood flow.
- An electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) to measure your heart rhythm.
- Blood tests, including a complete blood count and a fasting blood test 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 stent 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 heart-healthy foods. These include fruits, vegetables, high-fiber foods, fish, and foods that are low in sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about TIA:
- What is a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?
- What causes a TIA?
- What increases my risk for a TIA?
- Can a TIA be prevented?
- Who is affected by TIAs?
- What are the symptoms of a TIA?
- What tests will I need?
- What is the treatment for a TIA?
- What medicines will I need?
- Will I need surgery?
- Will a TIA lead to a stroke?
Living with TIA:
- Will I have to make lifestyle changes after a TIA?
- How can I eat a heart-healthy diet?