Transient Ischemic Attack

What is a Transient Ischemic Attack?

A transient ischemic attack, sometimes called TIA or a mini stroke, is a brief attack that resembles a stroke. It happens when blood flow is reduced or blocked to part of the brain, usually due to the presence of a blood clot.

Sometimes a TIA is the result of a sudden drop in blood pressure, which reduces the amount of blood that is able to reach the brain. Unlike a stroke, the condition resolves within a few minutes or hours, but it still must be evaluated immediately to be certain that the episode is not an actual stroke.

Although it is a relatively common affliction that becomes more likely to occur as a person gets older, a transient ischemic attack is a warning that the patient will probably experience a stroke in the future.

It is recommended that people who have had a TIA take steps to reduce their chances of having an actual stroke.

What are the Symptoms of Transient Ischemic Attack?

Symptoms of a transient ischemic attack are similar to those of a stroke.

Symptoms include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Vision problems
  • Weakness on one side of the body
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Coordination problems
  • Lightheadedness
  • Feeling faint
  • Vertigo
  • Impaired speech
  • Vision loss
  • Numbness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty swallowing

Transient Ischemic Attacks Causes

Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are commonly known as mini-strokes. TIAs occur when blood flow is temporarily blocked within the brain. This is most commonly the result of a blood clot which eventually will dissolve. Blood clots may arise in the brain itself or may travel to the brain from other parts of the body to create a TIA.

Whether a cut in your skin or damage to internal vessels like veins and arteries, blood clots are a protective mechanism that prevents bleeding out. When those clots are large enough to block the flow of blood in the brain, TIAs and strokes occur.

There are a number of risk factors associated with the occurrence of blood clots in the brain. Peripheral artery disease, a condition in which blood vessels are narrowed, puts a patient at particularly high risk.

When arteries in the brain are more narrow than usual, due to conditions like atherosclerosis, for example, clots can form along the walls of those plaque-encrusted vessels. Other risk factors for TIAs include high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular conditions such as atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

How is a Transient Ischemic Attack Treated?

Several treatments are available to patients who have had a transient ischemic attack, both to correct the initial problem and to prevent the occurrence of an actual stroke. Various medications will be prescribed depending on the cause of the TIA. Patients might be given anticoagulants like warfarin or heparin to prevent clotting, while anti-platelet drugs like aspirin stop blood platelets from sticking to each other.

If necessary, surgery can be used to correct certain issues. A stent can be installed to open clogged arteries, and a carotid endarterectomy clears away fatty deposits in the carotid artery.

Transient Ischemic Attacks Prevention

In some cases, susceptibility to TIAs is largely genetic. Other risk factors that are beyond patients’ control include a family history of strokes, being female, being over the age of 55, being of African-American descent, and having had a TIA in the past.

Though some factors are indeed beyond the control of patients, others are more squarely influenced by patients’ chosen lifestyle choices. There are a variety of preventive steps patients can take to avoid having a TIA. For patients who have experienced TIAs in the past, being especially vigilant about taking medications as prescribed (e.g., blood thinners such as warfarin) and seeing your doctor regularly are crucial.

For those who have not yet experienced a TIA, the following preventive actions can be helpful: keeping your weight in a healthy range, eliminating nicotine (i.e., stop smoking), managing diabetes meticulously, maintaining an active lifestyle, avoiding excessive salt and saturated fats in your diet, and keeping your cholesterol under control (with medication if recommended by your physician).

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Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 10, 2017
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