Discusses transient ischemic attack (TIA), sometimes called a mini-stroke. Covers causes, including blood clot as a result of atherosclerosis. Looks at treatment with medicines, surgery, and lifestyle changes. Discusses prevention steps.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
What is a transient ischemic attack?
A transient ischemic attack (TIA) happens when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked or reduced , 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.
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:
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.
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
Frequently Asked Questions
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Blood clots that temporarily block blood flow to the brain are the most common cause of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). Blood clots may develop for a variety of reasons.
Also, an artery that is partially blocked with plaque can reduce blood flow to the brain and cause symptoms.
Rare causes of blood clots that can cause a TIA include:
A transient ischemic attack (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 had a TIA but your symptoms went away, you still need to call your doctor right away.
Symptoms of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) occur suddenly and are always temporary. They usually go away in 10 to 20 minutes. TIA symptoms are just like stroke symptoms. They vary depending on which part of the brain is affected. Common symptoms of TIA may include:
A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a warning sign that a stroke may soon follow. Any symptoms of a TIA need to be treated as an emergency.
A TIA also may signal an increased risk for a heart attack. Atherosclerosis, which is hardening of the arteries, affects blood vessels throughout the body, including arteries that supply blood to the heart and brain. Atherosclerosis that affects the blood vessels in the heart (coronary arteries) may cause chest pain or a heart attack.
What Increases Your Risk
The risk factors (things that increase risk) for transient ischemic attack (TIA) and stroke include those you can treat or change and those you can't change.
Risk factors you can treat or change include:
Risk factors you cannot change include:
When To Call a Doctor
Call 911 or other emergency services now if you have signs of a stroke:
Call your doctor right away if you have:
Call your doctor today if you think you have had a TIA in the past and have not yet talked with your doctor about your symptoms.
Who to see
The following doctors can diagnose and treat a transient ischemic attack (TIA):
Other specialists may be consulted if you need surgery or have other health problems:
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
Exams and Tests
Immediate evaluation is recommended if you have had or are having a transient ischemic attack (TIA). The purpose of evaluation is to:
Your doctor will ask you about your medical history and do a physical exam.
Tests to detect a TIA
If a TIA is suspected, the doctor may want to do tests, such as a:
Tests to find the cause of a TIA
Further tests are often done to identify the cause of the TIA. If blockage of the carotid arteries is suspected, you may have tests such as:
TIA symptoms may be due to blood clots caused by a heart problem. If heart problems are suspected, you may have tests such as a:
You may have other blood tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC), chemistry screen, and prothrombin time (INR) based on your age and medical history. Your doctor will use these tests to look for other causes of the TIA.
Getting help for a TIA
If you have symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), get medical help right away.
If you had symptoms of a TIA but you feel better now, you still need to see a doctor right away. A TIA is a sign that a stroke may soon follow. Prompt medical treatment may prevent a stroke.
Treatment for a TIA
If you've had a TIA, you may need further testing and treatment after you've been checked by your doctor. If you have a high risk of stroke , you may have to stay in the hospital for treatment.
Your treatment for a TIA may include taking medicines to prevent a stroke or having surgery to reopen narrow arteries.
Medicines may include aspirin, clopidogrel, dipyridamole with aspirin, or warfarin.
If your carotid arteries are significantly blocked, you may need surgery to reopen the narrowed arteries (carotid endarterectomy).
Preventing another TIA or stroke
Your treatment will also focus on preventing another TIA or stroke. This may include:
You may also need to make lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, eating heart-healthy foods, and being more active. For more information, see Prevention.
You can help prevent a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke if you control risk factors and treat other medical conditions that can lead to a stroke.
Know your stroke risk
These are some of the common risk factors for stroke:
Treat any health problems you have
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
Home treatment is not appropriate for a transient ischemic attack (TIA). If you think you are having a TIA, don't ignore the symptoms, and don't try to manage them at home. Call 911 or other emergency services right away. If you had symptoms of a TIA but they went away, you still need to see a doctor right away.
You can care for yourself at home by adopting healthy habits that help you prevent another TIA or stroke. To learn more, see Prevention.
Your doctor will probably prescribe several medicines after you have had a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Medicines to prevent blood clots are typically used, because blood clots can cause TIAs and strokes.
The types of medicines that prevent clotting are:
Cholesterol-lowering and blood pressure-lowering medicines are also used to prevent TIAs and strokes.
Anticoagulants such as warfarin (for example, Coumadin) prevent blood clots from forming and keep existing blood clots from getting bigger.
You may need to take this type of medicine after a stroke if you have atrial fibrillation or another condition that makes you more likely to have another stroke. For more information, see the topic Atrial Fibrillation.
Blood pressure medicines
If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may want you to take medicines to lower it. Blood pressure medicines include:
When surgery is being considered after a transient ischemic attack (TIA), your age, prior overall health, and current condition are major factors in the decision.
If you have serious blockage in the carotid arteries in your neck, you may need a carotid endarterectomy. During this surgery, a surgeon removes plaque buildup in the carotid arteries . The benefits and risks of this surgery must be carefully weighed, because the surgery itself may cause a stroke.
Carotid artery stenting (also called carotid angioplasty and stenting) is sometimes done as an alternative to surgery to prevent a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.
In this procedure, a doctor threads a thin tube called a catheter through an artery in the groin and up to the carotid artery in your neck. The doctor then uses a tiny balloon to enlarge the narrowed portion of the artery and places a stent to keep the artery open.
Carotid artery stenting is not as common as carotid endarterectomy, a type of surgery.
Other Places To Get Help
Last Revised: August 26, 2013
Go AS, et al. (2013). Heart disease and stroke statistics–2013 update: A report from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 127(1): e6–e245.
Furie KL, et al (2011). Guidelines for the prevention of stroke in patients with stroke or transient ischemic attack: A guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke, 42(1): 227–276. Also available online: http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/42/1/227.full.
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