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What Is a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)?

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a kind of neurologic deficit that lasts less than 24 hours, usually just a few minutes. It’s also called a mini-stroke. It occurs when part of the brain isn’t getting enough blood.

TIAs are more common in men older than 60. People have a higher risk of stroke if they had a TIA before.

What Causes a TIA?

Plaques or blood clots in arteries can block blood flow. Most of the time, the body breaks down these plaques, so blood flow begins again and symptoms go away. A TIA is caused by a blood clot that gets trapped in one of the brain’s blood vessels. This clot usually comes from the heart or carotid arteries in the neck and is made of blood products or fat. The trapped clot stops blood from going to part of the brain, so the brain cannot get the oxygen from the blood.

What Are the Symptoms of a TIA?

Symptoms depend on where in the brain the TIA occurs. The most common symptom is weakness in a part of the body. Other symptoms include confusion, dizziness, double vision, memory loss, numbness, speech and swallowing problems, tingling, vision changes, and trouble walking.

In 70% of cases, symptoms go away in less than 10 minutes, and in 90% they go away in less than 4 hours.

How Is a TIA Diagnosed?

The health care provider will make a diagnosis from the medical history and physical examination. Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will be done to look for abnormalities in the brain. Other tests may include sonogram of the carotid arteries (blood vessels in the neck that bring blood to the brain) to look for blockages, electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG) to look for irregular heart rhythms, and ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram) to look for the presence of blood clots in the heart that may travel to the brain.

How Is a TIA Treated?

Treatment depends on the cause. The health care provider will be most concerned about preventing a stroke.

Conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, tobacco abuse, inactive lifestyle, and high cholesterol level are treated. Aspirin, clopidogrel, and warfarin may be given to thin the blood and prevent clots.

Surgery (carotid endoarterectomy) may be needed to open severely blocked carotid arteries (over 70% blockage).

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing a TIA:

  • DO note the conditions and symptoms when you have a TIA. What were you doing when it occurred? What symptoms did you have? How long did they last? When did they occur? This information is important for your physician to help determine what caused the TIA and which blood vessels may be involved.
  • DO take only medicines prescribed by your health care provider. Some may mean that you must get regular blood tests.
  • DO make sure that your health care provider knows about your other medical problems, such as diabetes, high cholesterol level, and high blood pressure.
  • DO keep follow-up health care provider appointments.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have another TIA after starting to take medicine.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have an unusually severe headache.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have problems with your medicines.
  • DON’T stop taking your medicine or change your dosage because you feel better unless your health care provider tells you to.
  • DON’T use tobacco products. They cause blood vessel disease and increase your risk of having a stroke.
  • DON’T eat a high-fat diet.
  • DON’T drive or do any activity that might be dangerous if you have a TIA.

Contact the following sources:

  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
    Tel: (800) 352-9424
  • National Stroke Association
    Tel: (800) 787-6537

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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