When a TIA strikes, treat it like an emergency and call 911. If it turns out you're having a stroke, every second counts. Getting care right away can make a huge difference in recovery. And if it's a TIA, you still need to get checked out because you may be at risk for a stroke sometime down the road.
The exact symptoms of a TIA depend on which part of your brain it affects. If you have more than one TIA, the symptoms can be different each time.
What to Look For
Just like a stroke, TIA symptoms seem to come out of nowhere. You typically have problems like:
Speaking problems. Your speech may be slurred, garbled, or hard to understand. It might be difficult to find the right words.
Weak or numb arms. You may have trouble lifting and holding up both arms.
Those are the clearest red flags, but you may also notice:
When to Call 911
If you see someone having symptoms of a TIA, call 911 right away. Even if the symptoms go away in a couple of minutes -- and that's pretty likely with a TIA -- it's still important to get help.
While it may not seem like an emergency, it's fairly common to have a stroke in just a few days of a TIA, so make sure to get checked out.
What to Expect at the Hospital
It may feel silly to show up at the hospital if your symptoms have stopped, but your doctor can help you figure out what happened and what comes next.
The first step is to make sure you're OK and to see if you had a TIA, stroke, or something else that could cause similar symptoms. Your doctor will:
If your doctor suspects a TIA, the next step is to see where the blockage came from so you can get the right care.
You may get several tests, such as:
Carotid ultrasound. In this test, your doctor checks the arteries in your neck for any blockages.
Echocardiography. It looks for blood clots in your heart.
Electrocardiogram. Your doctor uses this exam to check your heart's electrical activity and look for rhythm problems like atrial fibrillation, which can lead to a TIA.
Doctors often use an MRI or a CT scan to see how a stroke affected the brain. That's typically not needed after a TIA because it doesn't last long enough to cause any damage. In some cases, CTs and MRIs are useful with a TIA to check blood flow in the arteries of your brain and neck. They can also help your doctor track down the problem if it's not clear from your symptoms which part of your brain was affected during the TIA.