What is a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?
A TIA is a short-term problem in your brain. It is caused by a lack of blood flow to part of your brain.
A TIA is similar to a stroke Stroke A stroke is a sudden brain problem that happens when a blood vessel in your brain either gets blocked or breaks open and bleeds. As with all organs in the body, the brain needs oxygen and nutrients... read more 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 Atherosclerosis In people with atherosclerosis, patchy deposits of fatty material (atheromas or atherosclerotic plaques) develop in the walls of medium-sized and large arteries, leading to reduced or blocked... read more (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 illicit 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
Trouble understanding what people say
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, such as an MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer creates a series of detailed pictures. Each picture looks like a slice taken... read more (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scan Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more , to get detailed pictures of the inside of your brain.
Doctors will also do tests to find out what caused your TIA:
ECG Electrocardiography Electrocardiography is a test that measures your heart’s electrical activity. It's quick, painless, and harmless. The results of that test are shown in an electrocardiogram. It looks like a... read more (electrocardiography) and echocardiography Echocardiography and Other Ultrasound Procedures Echocardiography is also sometimes called an echocardiogram or an echo. An echo is an ultrasound of your heart. Sound waves bounce off your heart to create a moving image of your heart. This... read more 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 High Cholesterol Cholesterol is a type of fat. Fats are also called lipids. Cholesterol is a type of lipid—an essential element contained in all human cells. However, excess lipids and other fatty substances... read more , diabetes Diabetes Diabetes is a disease in which your blood sugar (glucose) levels are too high. You get diabetes if your body's normal way of controlling blood sugar isn't working right. There are 2 types of... read more , or excessive blood clotting Overview of Blood Clotting Disorders Blood clots help stop bleeding. Blood clotting (coagulation) disorders are dysfunctions in the body's ability to control the formation of blood clots. These dysfunctions may result in Too little... read more
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 Blood Pressure Each heart beat pushes blood through your arteries. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your body. Blood pressure is the pressure of blood in your arteries. Without... read more , high cholesterol High Cholesterol Cholesterol is a type of fat. Fats are also called lipids. Cholesterol is a type of lipid—an essential element contained in all human cells. However, excess lipids and other fatty substances... read more , diabetes Diabetes Diabetes is a disease in which your blood sugar (glucose) levels are too high. You get diabetes if your body's normal way of controlling blood sugar isn't working right. There are 2 types of... read more , and smoking Smoking People smoke tobacco in cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Tobacco smoke has many harmful chemicals that cause problems in your whole body, not just your lungs. Smoking is addictive because tobacco... read more
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.