Transient Ischemic Attack

What is transient ischemic attack?

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), sometimes called a mini-stroke, is a sudden, short-lived neurological condition. It is caused by a small, temporary blockage in a blood vessel in the brain. The symptoms last less than a hour in most cases, but can last up to 24 hours. Common symptoms include a loss of vision, slurred speech and weakness of the face, arm or legs. Treatment aims to prevent a further TIA and stroke by thinning the blood and managing conditions which increase the risk of having a stroke. Although a TIA itself does not cause permanent damage to the brain, it is a warning sign that a stroke may occur in the near future. People who have had a TIA should discuss steps to prevent strokes with a doctor.

Risks

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is caused by a small, temporary blockage in a blood vessel in the brain. This causes a part of the brain to be temporarily without oxygen, causing the symptoms of the TIA. This condition can affect anyone, but is most common in people older than 60 years of age. Some medical conditions, especially high blood pressure, diabetes, atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart rhythm), or high cholesterol levels, cause an increased risk of developing this condition. People who smoke and people who have a family member who has had a stroke also have an increased risk of having a TIA.

Symptoms

The symptoms of a transient ischemic attack may be slightly different from person to person, but are always short-lived. The symptoms last less than a hour in most cases, but can last up to 24 hours. They may include a loss of vision, slurred speech or difficulty finding words, and weakness of the face, arm or leg. A temporary change in behavior, memory and movement is also possible.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis may be made based on a description of the symptoms and a examination of the nervous system. After a TIA, tests may be done to look for factors that increase the risk of a stroke in the near future. This may involve blood tests, an ultrasound scan of the blood vessels in the neck and, possibly, a MRI or CT scan of the head.

Treatment

The treatment following a transient ischemic attack (TIA) may involve taking medication to thin the blood. Having a TIA increases the risk of further strokes and so the treatment of other medical conditions, especially high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, atrial fibrillation and diabetes, is an important part of the treatment.

Prevention

Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise, giving up smoking and reducing alcohol intake can all reduce the risk of transient ischemic attack and stroke. Good control of high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and diabetes can help to prevent a TIA. People with conditions that increase the risk of blood clots forming in the heart, such as atrial fibrillation, should consider taking medications to thin their blood.

Other names for transient ischemic attack

  • Mini stroke
  • TIA