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

A “mini-stroke” or “transient ischemic attack” (TIA) occurs when there is a temporary drop in the blood supply to the brain.

Various events or conditions can cause the brain to be deprived of oxygen. Symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) are similar to those of a stroke, but they do not last as long.

It is estimated that up to 500,000 people in the United States experience a TIA each year.

Because symptoms fade away rapidly, most patients do not seek medical help. However, between 10-15 percent of TIA patients have a full-blown stroke within 3 months. This is why recognizing the signs of a TIA and seeking medical attention is important.

Rapid evaluation and treatment of people who experienced a mini-stroke, either in specially designed TIA clinics or the emergency room, can significantly reduce the risk of a subsequent stroke.

Fast facts on TIA

A mini-stroke occurs when blood is temporarily cut off to regions of the brain.

Around 500,000 Americans have a stroke each year.

Rapid care is essential to minimize the medical implications of a stroke.

The object of TIA treatment is to prevent further occurrences.

One of the most common drugs used to prevent TIAs is warfarin, an anticoagulant medication.

What is a TIA?

[stroke tablets]
The acronym FAST represents the signs and symptoms of stroke.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is like a stroke in that it produces similar symptoms, but it only lasts a few minutes and causes no permanent damage. It is sometimes called a mini-stroke.

It happens when there is not enough oxygen reaching the brain. This is often due to a blood clot that remains for a short while.

When the clot breaks up or moves on, symptoms subside.

The American Stroke Association (ASA) urges people not to ignore a TIA, as it can be a warning of a future, full-blown stroke.

Symptoms

People with TIA experience varying symptoms, depending on which part of the brain is affected.

The signs and symptoms of a TIA are represented by the acronym FAST (Face, Arms, Speech, Time):

Face: The face may fall on one side as some of the facial muscles become paralyzed. The person’s eye or mouth may droop, and they may be unable to smile properly.

Arms: Arm weakness or numbness might make it hard for the individual to either raise both arms or to keep them raised.

Speech: Speech may be slurred and garbled.

Time: If just one of these symptoms are present, it is time to dial emergency services.

Being able to identify the signs and symptoms present in FAST is especially important if you live with somebody in a high-risk group, such as an older adult, or an individual with high blood pressure or diabetes. FAST is also a reminder that the sooner medical treatment is sought, the better the chance of recovery.

Other signs and symptoms of a TIA can include:

dizziness

difficulty talking

difficulty understanding what others are talking about

problems swallowing

very bad headache

paralysis, numbness, or weakness on one side of the body

in severe cases loss of consciousness

If anybody experiences any of these signs and symptoms themselves or witnesses anybody else experiencing them, medical attention should be sought immediately. TIA symptoms are temporary and should disappear within 24 hours. They may last from 2-15 minutes.

Which conditions can mimic a TIA?

Recognizing a TIA can be complicated, especially as other conditions can produce similar symptoms and bodily effects.

These include:

low blood sugar

migraines

minor seizures

The way to rule out these other conditions is that a TIA will often heavily impact one part of the body, such as sensation and movement in a single limb or vision. This is due to a TIA’s effect in blocking a single blood vessel. Conditions that mimic a TIA will generally cause bodywide neurological symptoms, such as tingling or fainting.

To prevent TIA developing into a full-blown stroke, it is vital to have any symptoms checked that could suggest the presence of a TIA.

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Causes

A TIA happens when the supply of oxygen to the brain is disrupted.

Disruption of blood supply

Two main blood vessels called the carotid arteries supply blood to the brain. These arteries branch off into many smaller blood vessels. A TIA can occur if one of the smaller blood vessels becomes blocked, depriving that part of the brain of oxygen-rich blood.

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