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Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) - Topic Overview

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A transient ischemic attack (TIA) happens when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked or reduced camera.gif, 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. Some people call a TIA a mini-stroke, because the symptoms are those of a stroke but don't last long.

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 or other emergency services right away. 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.

Symptoms of a TIA are the same as symptoms of a stroke. But symptoms of a TIA 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 loss of movement 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 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. The clot can block blood flow to part of the brain. 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.

Your doctor will do tests to look at your heart and blood vessels. You may need:

Your doctor will also check to see if something else caused your symptoms.

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 a procedure to open them up. This can help prevent blood clots that block blood flow to your brain.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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