Mini-Stroke (Transient Ischemic Attack)

A transient ischemic attack (‘TIA’ or ‘mini-stroke’) occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is temporarily blocked. Here’s what you need to know about TIA.

WHAT IS A TIA?

TIA is the term used to describe a set of signs and symptoms that indicate blood flow to a small area of the brain has been blocked. These symptoms can mimic those of a major stroke but usually only include a few common stroke signs. TIA symptoms usually clear up within an hour or two, though you may notice symptoms for 24 hours or so.

A TIA occurs when a small clot blocks blood flow within the brain or when certain blood vessels — like the carotid arteries — become narrowed due to plaque buildup. These narrowed vessels cannot deliver adequate amounts of oxygen-rich blood to the brain.

Because a TIA can indicate a serious stroke in the near future, you should have any stroke-like symptoms evaluated by a medical professional right away.

TIA SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

You may experience any or all of these signs and symptoms during a TIA:

  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Weakness on one side of the body
  • Drooping on one side of the face
  • Aphasia or ‘word salad’: the inability to say a coherent sentence. For example, you may be thinking, “The sky is blue,” but your mouth is saying, “Unrelated cheese curtains.”
  • Difficulty recognizing printed words or numbers on a page. For example, you may pick up a newspaper and feel you should be able to read a story, but it looks like random letters on the page.
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Numbness or tingling on only one side of the body
  • Sensory changes, such as increased or reduced ability to sense changes in temperature, pain, pressure, hearing or taste

You should never wait to see if these symptoms clear up on their own. If you or a loved one experiences any of these signs of stroke, you should call for emergency medical attention immediately.

RISK FACTORS FOR TIA

High blood pressure is the major contributing factor for experiencing a TIA. Other risk factors include age (over 55 years old), smoking, diabetes, family history of stroke, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation and race (African-Americans are at a higher risk of death from stroke than any other ethnic group).

TREATMENT OF TIA

While there are no specific treatments for TIAs, any underlying cause will be evaluated and treated by your healthcare provider. For example, you may be put on medication to control your high blood pressure, or you may need to take cholesterol-lowering drugs.

TIA PREVENTION

You can take many steps to help avoid experiencing a TIA and/or a subsequent stroke. Here’s what you should do:

  • Get a thorough annual physical examination, including blood work. This checkup will reveal any potential health conditions that could cause a TIA, including high blood pressure (hypertension), atrial fibrillation or diabetes.
  • Take medications exactly as prescribed.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the primary contributor to stroke risk.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity helps keep your circulatory system in good shape.
  • Practice stress reduction. Don’t allow your blood pressure to spike regularly due to situational anger or anxiety.

DO NOT IGNORE THE SIGNS OF A MINI-STROKE (TIA)

About 40% of people will experience a true stroke at some time after a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Do not ignore this warning sign of stroke. If you or a loved one exhibits the signs or symptoms of a TIA, seek emergency medical attention even if the symptoms have cleared up.