Transient ischemic attack occurs in approximately 300,000 patients per year in the United States. Often referred to as a mini-stroke, a TIA is the result of a temporary interruption of blood flow to the brain.
Unlike a full-blown stroke, a TIA does not kill brain cells or result in permanent brain damage, but it can be an indicator of future stroke. Research indicates that 11 percent of patients diagnosed with TIA in an emergency room will experience a stroke within 90 days.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): Symptoms
Unlike with a stroke, TIA symptoms often clear up in a few minutes, although they can last for hours. Symptoms may include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking, or difficulty understanding.
- Sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or loss of coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): Diagnosis
To diagnose TIA, it is essential to obtain a full and accurate account of the attack. Tests support but do not usually confirm diagnosis of TIA, which must be made purely from the clinical history.
It is important to diagnose a TIA in order to prevent the damage and disability a future stroke could cause. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and conduct a complete physical exam. Depending on your doctor’s findings, he or she may then recommend one or more of the following tests:
- Chest x-ray to check for enlarged left atrium or valvular calcification.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) to record the electrical activity of your heart and rule out atrial fibrillation.
- Carotid doppler ultrasound to view blood flow in the major veins and arteries of the head.
- Various blood tests, including erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), a nonspecific screening test for various diseases.
- Echocardiogram (ultrasound scan) of the heart.
- CT brain scan to look for bleeding into the brain and to exclude structural lesions.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to check for clogged blood vessels.
- Cerebral angiogram to look for blockage or narrowing of blood vessels in the brain.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): Treatment
The primary treatment goal with TIA is stroke prevention. Treatment for the TIA patient depends on the underlying cause of the attack. Medication and/or surgery may be necessary to restore blood flow through narrowed arteries. For more information, see stroke treatment.
Antiplatelet agents, such as aspirin, work by preventing the platelets in the blood from clumping and are often recommended for TIA victims to help reduce their risk of stroke in the future. Anticoagulants may be prescribed for patients with atrial fibrillation (irregular beating of the heart).
Finally, the following simple lifestyle changes can greatly reduce your risk of stroke:
- Quit smoking.
- Lose weight.
- Reduce consumption of saturated fat.
- Exercise regularly.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): Resources
American Stroke Association
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas TX 75231
888-4-STROKE or 1-888-478-7653
Hazel K. Goddess Fund for Stroke Research in Women
1217 South Flagler Drive, Suite 302
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
NIH Neurological Institute
P.O. Box 5801
Bethesda, MD 20824
Tel: 800-352-9424 or 301-496-5751
TTY (for people using adaptive equipment): (301) 468-5981