Healthy Living

What Is a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)?

Transient ischemic attack (TIA): Symptoms, causes, and treatment

Overview

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a mini-stroke, which only lasts for a few minutes. It occurs when blood stops flowing to a part of the brain for a short time. The symptoms of TIA are similar to other symptoms of stroke, but they do not last long, so TIA does not lead to permanent damage. 

A TIA is usually a sign or a warning of an impending stroke. Around 1 in every 3 people who have TIA will later have a stroke. About half of them have a stroke within a year after having TIA. For this reason, it is very important to know the symptoms of TIA and the steps to take to help reduce the risk of a stroke. 

Symptoms

Transient ischemic attacks tend to only last for a few minutes. Most of its signs and symptoms go away within hours. The signs and symptoms of TIA are similar to those early experienced in a stroke, and may include the sudden onset of the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Unconsciousness
  • Difficulty walking 
  • Vision changes
  • Confusion or difficulty understanding other people
  • Difficulty speaking or garbled speech
  • Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • Sudden high blood pressure
  • Temporary loss of memory 

Since the signs and symptoms of TIA do not last long, most people ignore them and do not seek medical help. However, a TIA should never be ignored because it is a warning sign of a future stroke. 

Apart from the above-mentioned symptoms, the signs of TIA can also be represented in the form of the acronym FAST, which stands for face, arms, speech, and time.

  • (F) Face - The face of the individual would droop on one side of the face because few facial muscles tend to become paralyzed. The individual’s eye or mouth may also start to droop. The person would also be unable to smile properly when asked to. 
  • (A) Arm - Arm numbness and weakness make it harder for people to raise both of their arms or to raise their arms for a long time.
  • (S) Speech - The speech of a person would start to become garbled and slurred.
  • (T) Time - If these signs are observed, do not delay and call 911 right away.

The acronym FAST is the easiest way to remember and identify the common symptoms of a stroke. Stroke recognition and calling 911 will help people receive the emergency treatment they need for their condition. Receiving prompt medical treatment in a hospital often results in a better recovery. 

Causes

One of the leading causes of stroke and TIA is having high blood pressure. Controlling high blood pressure can help prevent a future stroke or TIA. The following conditions can also reduce or block the flow of blood to the brain and trigger a transient ischemic attack:

Risk Factors

A transient ischemic attack can occur because of clogged arteries, which block the flow of blood to the brain. There are certain conditions that can cause clogged arteries, and they include diabetes, sickle cell anemia, and atrial fibrillation

A person's risk of having TIA also increases if he or she has any of the following risk factors: 

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) 
  • High cholesterol
  • 40 years old and above
  • Overweight 
  • A family history of strokes and TIAs
  • History of heart disease and other heart problems
  • History of blood clots
  • History of illegal use of drugs or alcohol abuse 

People with the following risk factors also have an increased risk of having a stroke following a transient ischemic attack: 

  • 60 years old and above
  • Uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Diabetes
  • Sudden weakness on one side of the body
  • Speech problems (during a transient ischemic attack)
  • Have TIA symptoms for more than one hour 

If you recently had a transient ischemic attack, speak with your doctor to know the steps that you should take to help reduce your risk of having a stroke. 

Diagnosis

To help doctors find out the cause of TIA and assess stroke risks, the following tests may be performed:

  • Physical Examination and Other Tests - Your doctor checks your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and homocysteine levels. An eye examination may also be performed using an ophthalmoscope to check for any cholesterol or platelet fragments in the retina of your eye. 
  • Carotid Ultrasonography - This imaging technique can help show the structural details of carotid arteries, look for atherosclerotic plaque buildup, blood clots, and other blood circulation problems.
  • Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan - A CT scan is an imaging test that uses a combination of a computer and X-rays to produce more detailed images of the body's tissues, bones, and organs. 
  • Computerized Tomography Angiography (CTA) Scan - This technique is similar to a CT scan, but utilizes an injection of iodine-rich contrast dye into blood vessels to help doctors evaluate the arteries in the brain and neck as well as diagnose blood vessel disease, aneurysms, and blockages. 
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - This imaging test uses a strong magnetic field to help produce a 3D-structural view of the brain and other organs or structures in the body. 
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA) - This test is an MRI examination of the blood vessels. 
  • Echocardiography -This is a diagnostic cardiac ultrasound
  • Arteriography - This imaging test uses X-rays and a special contrast dye to help visualize arteries. 

Treatment

TIA treatment can help prevent a future stroke. The following are common treatments for TIA:

  • Aspirin or other blood thinners 
  • Diabetes medications to help control blood sugar levels
  • High blood pressure medications
  • High cholesterol medications
  • Carotid artery surgery

Medications prescribed by your doctor may be taken for a longer time to help prevent the occurrence of a future stroke. Your condition should also be monitored, so regular follow-up visits to your doctor are also required. 

Prognosis

A transient ischemic attack is usually a warning sign of a more serious stroke in the future. However, many strokes can be prevented by not ignoring the warning signs of TIAs as well as treating underlying health conditions or risk factors. 

The following are treatable factors that are related to stroke and TIAs:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Carotid artery disease

Stroke and TIA risk factors can be reduced or eliminated through medical help, eating a well-balanced diet, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and joining alcohol and smoking programs. 

Key Takeaways

  • A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a mini-stroke, which only lasts for a few minutes.
  • A TIA occurs when blood stops flowing to a part of the brain for a short time. 
  • A TIA is usually a sign or a warning of an impending stroke.