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Quick Facts

Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA)

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

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What is a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?

Transient is something that goes away quickly. Ischemic means no blood flow is getting to an organ. So a TIA is a temporary brain problem caused by a lack of blood flow to part of your brain. A TIA is similar to a stroke except that a TIA doesn't cause long-lasting brain damage. However, a TIA may be a warning sign of a future stroke.

  • TIAs come on suddenly and go away in an hour or less

  • The causes and symptoms of TIAs are the same as for strokes but a TIA ends before your brain is damaged

  • You get different symptoms depending on what part of your brain was affected

  • You may have face numbness or drooping, arm or leg weakness, difficulty seeing, or trouble speaking

  • Symptoms often involve only one side of your body

  • Go to the emergency room right away if you have any sudden TIA symptoms, even if symptoms went away quickly

  • Medicines may help prevent a stroke or another TIA

What causes a TIA?

TIAs are caused by a lack of blood flow to part of your brain from a blocked blood vessel in your brain.

A blocked blood vessel can be caused by:

  • A blood clot that forms in an artery in your brain

  • A blood clot that forms in your heart or a blood vessel near your heart that breaks loose, moves through your bloodstream, and gets stuck in a blood vessel in your brain

  • A fat deposit (plaque) that breaks off the lining of one of your blood vessels and gets stuck in a blood vessel in your brain

Fat deposits in your blood vessels are called atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Atherosclerosis in the two big blood vessels in your neck (the carotid arteries) can cause a TIA or stroke because these blood vessels are the main blood supply to the brain.

The major risk factors for TIAs are:

Other risk factors include:

  • Having relatives who have had a stroke

  • Drinking too much alcohol

  • Using drugs like cocaine

  • Having an abnormal heart rhythm such as atrial fibrillation

What are the symptoms of a TIA?

Symptoms of a TIA develop suddenly. They are identical to the symptoms of a stroke but are temporary. They usually last 2 to 30 minutes and go away completely within 1 hour.

Many different symptoms can occur, depending on which part of your brain isn't getting enough blood:

  • Feeling weak or numb on one side of your face or body

  • Difficulty talking

  • Trouble understanding what people say

  • Confusion

  • Loss of coordination

  • Blind spots in your vision

How will my doctor know if I had a TIA?

Doctors usually suspect a TIA if you have symptoms of a stroke that go away on their own in less than one hour. Doctors will put you in the hospital and do an imaging test (MRI or CT scan) to get detailed pictures of the inside of your brain.

Doctors will also do tests to find out what caused your TIA:

  • ECG and echocardiography to look for problems in your heart

  • Imaging tests to see if blood vessels in your neck are blocked or narrowed

  • Blood tests to check for risk factors like high cholesterol, diabetes, or excessive blood clotting

How do doctors treat a TIA?

You may not need treatment for the TIA itself, because it doesn't cause lasting problems. However, doctors will treat the problems that caused your TIA to decrease your chances of a stroke in the future. Doctors may:

  • Give you medicines to make your blood less likely to clot (blood thinners)

  • Treat any problems with your heart or arteries that caused your TIA

  • Treat health problems that increase your chances of having another TIA or a stroke, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking

If you had a TIA because of narrowing of a blood vessel in your neck, doctors may do surgery to open the blood vessel. Or they might put a small tube (stent) in the blood vessel to keep it open.