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Transient Ischemic Attack (Mini-Stroke) (cont.)

What Are the Symptoms and Signs of Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)?

The symptoms of stroke and TIA are the same and depend upon the particular region of the brain that is affected. But while a stroke is permanent, a TIA by definition resolves its own.

  • Neurologic deficits appear suddenly and can affect the ability to move or feel on one side of the body.
  • Speech and vision can be affected.
  • The affected person may experience confusion, difficulty saying words, or the inability to follow commands.

Because the brain is a large organ, the whole side of an individual's body doesn't need to be affected. Symptoms may be limited to an arm or leg or part of the face. The deficits are also grouped based on the anatomy of the brain. As an example, loss of speech (aphasia) is associated with weakness or numbness on the right side of the body, since speech is controlled by the left of the brain. These symptoms are associated with problems in the anterior circulation from the carotid arteries.

TIAs, like stroke, may have large, obvious neurologic defects like paralysis. However, the symptoms may also be subtle, such as numbness or burning of a limb, or clumsiness with the use of hand or while walking.

If the cerebellum is affected because of issues with the vertebral arteries, the symptoms are much different. Symptoms of posterior circulation stroke or cerebrovascular accident include:

  • dizziness,
  • loss of balance and coordination, and
  • trouble walking.

Drop attacks, in which the patient falls suddenly without warning, with or without losing consciousness, occur as a result of a TIA to the base of the brain.

Amaurosis Fugax is a specific type of TIA where there is sudden loss of vision in one eye that resolves spontaneously. It occurs when debris from the carotid artery on the same side occludes one of the ophthalmic arteries and stops blood supply to the retina (the nerve complex in the back of the eye that interprets light and visual signals).

When Should I Call the Doctor About Transient Ischemic Attack?

A stroke is a medical emergency. When a stroke is suspected, emergency medical services should be activated (911 should be called in the U.S.). With the inability to predict the future, there is no way of knowing whether the symptoms will resolve. If the symptoms persist and a stroke situation exists, there is a narrow window of time to intervene and potentially use TPA (a clot-busting drug) to restore blood supply to the brain and reverse the neurologic deficits. Depending on the hospital and its capabilities, there may be only three to four and a half hours from the onset of symptoms in which to administer the drugs. In that time, the patient needs to be examined, blood tests need to be drawn, a CT scan of the head needs to be performed to insure that a hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding into the brain) is not the cause, and a neurologist needs to be contacted.

If EMS is not activated and the symptoms resolve so that the patient, family, or friends suspect that a TIA has occurred, there is still a need to seek care urgently. It may be reasonable to contact the primary care provider to help coordinate the evaluation.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/21/2016

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Trasient Ischemic Attack »

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) can be considered an acute episode of temporary neurologic dysfunction caused by a vascular occlusion.

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