What is transient ischemic attack?

What Is a TIA?

Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) happens when blood flow to part of the brain is stopped for a short time. This can cause stroke symptoms that may last for at least a few minutes. But unlike a stroke, a TIA doesn't cause lasting brain damage.

A TIA is a warning that you may have a stroke in the future. Early treatment can help prevent a stroke.

What happens after a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?

A TIA doesn't cause lasting problems. But it is a serious warning sign of a possible stroke in the future. But you can do a lot to lower your chance of having a stroke. Medicines and a heart-healthy lifestyle can help.

What are the symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?

Symptoms of a TIA are the same as symptoms of a stroke. But symptoms of a TIA don't last very long. They may go away in a few minutes.

If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 or other emergency services right away.

Symptoms 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.

Ask your family, friends, and coworkers to learn the signs of a TIA and stroke. They may notice these signs before you do. Make sure they know to call 911 if these signs appear.

How is a transient ischemic attack (TIA) treated?

Treatment for TIA is focused on preventing a stroke. A heart-healthy lifestyle and medicine can help. You may take medicine to prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and manage other health problems. Some people have surgery or a procedure to widen narrowed carotid arteries that supply blood to the brain.

How are procedures used to treat a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?

If you have serious blockage in the carotid arteries in your neck, you may choose to have a procedure to open the narrowed arteries. This can improve blood flow and help prevent a stroke.

During a surgical procedure, called carotid endarterectomy, a surgeon removes plaque buildup in the carotid arteries. During a catheter procedure, called carotid artery stenting, a thin tube is used to widen the narrowed artery and place a stent inside. The stent helps keep the artery open.

When a procedure is being considered after a TIA, the benefits and risks must be carefully weighed because the procedures may cause a stroke. Factors in the decision about having a procedure include your age, prior overall health, and current condition.

How can you help prevent another transient ischemic attack (TIA) and a stroke?

Here are some ways to reduce your risk of having another TIA and a stroke.

  • Work with your doctor to manage other health problems, including atrial fibrillation, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
  • Take your medicine exactly as prescribed.
  • Have a heart-healthy lifestyle.
    • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor.
    • Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
    • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
    • Be active. Ask your doctor what type and level of activity are safe for you.
    • Eat heart-healthy foods. These include vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains. Limit sodium and sugar.
    • If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drug use, talk to your doctor.
  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19, the flu, and pneumonia.

How is a transient ischemic attack (TIA) diagnosed?

Your doctor asks you about your medical history and does a physical exam. You may have tests, like a CT scan of the head or an MRI. These tests check for damage to the brain and other diseases. Other tests are often done to find the cause of the TIA.

How are medicines used to treat a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?

Your doctor will probably prescribe several medicines after you've had a TIA. The medicines can help lower your risk of another TIA and a stroke.

Medicines to prevent blood clots are often used. This is because blood clots can cause TIAs and strokes. The types of medicines that prevent clotting are antiplatelets and anticoagulants.

Medicines to lower cholesterol and blood pressure are also used to prevent TIAs and strokes.

Medicines that prevent blood clots

Antiplatelet medicines keep platelets in the blood from sticking together. They include:

  • Aspirin.
  • Aspirin combined with dipyridamole.
  • Other antiplatelet medicines, such as clopidogrel.

Anticoagulants prevent blood clots from forming. And they keep existing blood clots from getting bigger. Examples include:

  • Direct oral anticoagulants.
  • Warfarin.

You may take this type of medicine if you have atrial fibrillation or another condition that makes you more likely to have a stroke.

Cholesterol medicines

Cholesterol medicines lower cholesterol and the risk for a TIA or stroke. Examples are:

  • Statins.
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitors.
  • PCSK9-inhibitors.

Blood pressure medicines

Blood pressure medicines lower blood pressure and the risk for a TIA or stroke. Blood pressure medicines include:

  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs).
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.
  • Diuretics.

How can you care for yourself after a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?

Manage health problems that raise your risk of TIA and stroke. These include atrial fibrillation, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Have a heart-healthy lifestyle. This includes eating heart-healthy foods, limiting alcohol, being active, staying at a healthy weight, and not smoking.

What puts you at risk for a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?

A risk factor is anything that makes you more likely to have a particular health problem. Some of the risk factors for a TIA are things you can manage or change. These include:

  • Having a health problem such as atrial fibrillation, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
  • Smoking.
  • Drinking more than 2 alcoholic drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
  • Being overweight.
  • Not eating healthy foods.
  • Physical inactivity.

Risk factors you can't change include:

  • Having had a previous TIA or stroke.
  • Having a family history of TIA or stroke. Your risk is greater if a parent, brother, or sister has had a stroke or TIA.
  • Being older. The risk of TIA increases with age.
  • Being African American, Alaskan Native, Native American, or South Asian American.
  • Being female.
  • Having certain problems during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia.
  • Having gone through menopause.

Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

Blood flow blocked to an area of the brain for a short time.

During a transient ischemic attack (TIA), blood flow to part of the brain is temporarily blocked or reduced, often by a blood clot. This causes the same symptoms as a stroke, but after a few minutes or more, blood flow is restored and the symptoms go away.

What is a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) means that the blood flow to a part of the brain is blocked for a short time. A TIA causes the same symptoms as a stroke. But unlike a stroke, a TIA does not cause lasting brain damage. A TIA is a sign that a stroke may happen in the future.

During a TIA, the blood supply to part of the brain is reduced or blocked. This may be caused by a blood clot in a blood vessel. When blood flow is blocked, the brain cells in that area are affected within seconds. This causes symptoms in parts of the body controlled by those brain cells. Symptoms can last for at least a few minutes. When the blood flow returns, the symptoms go away.

What causes a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?

A TIA occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is blocked for a short time. This may be caused by a blood clot. A clot may form in damaged blood vessels. A blood clot can also travel to the brain from another location, like the heart.

Transient ischemic attack (TIA): When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a stroke. These 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.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.
    Call 911 even if these symptoms go away in a few minutes.
  • You feel like you are having another TIA.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.