TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack)

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Neuroscience Institute Swedish Cerebrovascular Center

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is also called a "mini-stroke" because its symptoms are very similar to a stroke. A TIA is a warning sign that you are at risk of a more serious and debilitating stroke. About one-third of people who have a TIA will have an acute stroke sometime in the future.

The specialists at the Swedish Cerebrovascular Center are highly skilled and experienced in diagnosing and treating patients who have had a TIA.

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Causes and Symptoms of TIA
Diagnosing TIA and Underlying Causes
Treatment after a TIA
Risk Factors and Prevention


Causes and Symptoms of TIA

Like a stroke, a TIA is caused by a clot that blocks the blood supply to a part of the brain. The main differences between a TIA and an acute stroke are:

  • In a TIA, the blood clot is temporary and breaks up and dissolves quickly
  • Symptoms from a TIA typically last only several minutes
  • TIAs do not typically cause permanent damage

Some causes of TIAs include:

  • Plaque: A piece of plaque from build-up in the arteries that supply oxygen to the brain breaks off and temporarily blocks an artery to the brain
  • Blood clot: A blood clot from another part of the body – often the heart – breaks off and travels to the brain

Both TIAs and strokes happen suddenly. Symptoms of both can include:

  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in the face, arm, or leg - often on one side of the body
  • Confusion, difficulty in talking or understanding speech
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Dizziness or loss of balance and coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache

Please note: Because there is no way to tell whether symptoms are from a TIA or an acute stroke, patients should assume that all stroke-like symptoms signal a medical emergency.


Diagnosing TIA and Underlying Causes

If you can get to an emergency room immediately, doctors can evaluate you and help quickly determine an appropriate treatment plan. A variety of diagnostic methods can be used to help determine the cause of the TIA and assess your risk of stroke.

Diagnostic methods include:

  • A physical exam and blood tests
  • Carotid ultrasound – using ultrasound to assess possible narrowing of the carotid arteries in the neck and head
  •  CT or CTA scan - using X-Rays and sometimes high-contrast materials injected into blood vessels
  •  MRI or MRA, using magnetic imaging to create a 3-D view of the brain
  • Echocardiography, using sound waves emitted from a transducer inserted into the esophagus
  • Angiography/Arteriography - a minimally invasive procedure that involves threading a thin tube through a small incision in the groin up into the carotid artery; dye is injected through the tube, and X-rays taken

All of these diagnostic tests are available through the Swedish Cerebrovascular Center.


Treatment after a TIA

Treatment for TIA depends on what caused the attack. The goal of treatment is to correct the underlying problem and prevent an acute stroke.

Depending on your situation, treatment may include:

  • Lifestyle modifications
  • Medication to reduce blood clotting
  • Angioplasty to open a clogged artery and insert a small wire tube to keep the artery open
  • Surgery to remove plaque from the walls of the artery
  • Medication to reduce risk factors such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes

Managing risk factors for TIA is essential for preventing a stroke or more TIAs.


Risk Factors and Prevention

Major risk factors for TIAs and stroke include a family history of stroke and:

  • High blood pressure (the #1 cause of stroke)
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Tobacco use

People over 55 are also at greater risk of stroke, and men are at greater risk than women. Lifestyle and habits are also key factors.

To reduce your risk of TIA or stroke:

  • Stop smoking: Smoking increases blood pressure and reduces the amount of oxygen your blood can carry to the brain. People who smoke are at twice the risk of TIA and stroke.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Increase the number of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet, and decrease your salt intake.
  • Exercise regularly: Exercising at least three times a week will help blood and oxygen flow to the brain

Please note: Getting proper treatment for high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes is crucial in reducing the risk of TIAs and stroke.