Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) - Topic Overview

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What is a transient ischemic attack?

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 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.

What are the symptoms?

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.

What causes a TIA?

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.

What tests do you need after a TIA?

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.

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

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

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:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with TIA:

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
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.© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

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