What is a TIA

older couple meeting with a doctor

A Transient Ischemic Attack [TIA] is often called a mini-stroke, but it’s really a major warning. TIA is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain. Since it doesn’t cause permanent damage, it’s often ignored. But this is a big mistake. TIAs may signal a full-blown stroke ahead. When you first notice symptoms, get help immediately.

Do TIA’s Cause Lasting Damage?

Even though they can be troubling, TIAs do not appear to cause lasting damage. Why? A TIA occurs because of a blockage to the brain. But the body fights back quickly by pushing the TIA “downstream” or by using natural clot-dissolvers — anticoagulants — in the blood. The blockage isn’t in place long enough to do any lasting damage. Without blood flow, brain tissue can be injured. The severity of any blockage-related stroke is determined by the location of the injury in the brain and how long the tissue is without blood.

TIA as a Warning for Future Stroke

TIAs are often called “mini-strokes,” because their immediate consequences are fairly harmless. But “warning stroke” is a better label, because a TIA usually foreshadows a full-blown stroke. TIAs are caused by a clot or blockage in the brain. The blockage is short term. The clot usually dissolves on its own or gets dislodged, and symptoms usually last less than five minutes.

The statistics tell part of the story:

  • A TIA happens before about 15 percent of all strokes.
  • Up to 25 percent of people who suffer a TIA die within one year.
  • About one-third of people who have a TIA go on to have a more severe stroke within one year.

TIA Risk Factors and Treatments

Anyone can have a TIA  but the risk increases with age. If you’ve previously had a stroke, pay careful attention to the signs of TIA, because they could signal a second stroke in your future.

The risk factors are smoking, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and blood clots called embolisms. Get help immediately if you think you could be having a TIA. Trained medical staff will need to evaluate your condition. Some causes are only visible with hospital equipment. When a TIA occurs in a young person with no clear risk factors, the patient might be sent to a neurologist for testing to rule out vasculitis, carotid artery dissection and other types of injury or infection.

TIA Statistics

If you’re worried that you’re having a transient ischemic attack or TIA, get medical help right away. If you think you might’ve had one in the past, do your homework and talk with your doctor. TIAs are often followed by more severe strokes.

A TIA occurs before about 15 percent of all strokes.

  •  People who have severe strokes often report having earlier warning strokes. Between 7 and 40 percent of patients who are treated for a blockage-related stroke (or ischemic stroke) report experiencing a TIA first.
  •  About 240,000 Americans experience a TIA every year.
  •  Warning strokes are often followed by more severe strokes. About one-third of the people who have a TIA go on to have a more severe stroke within a year. TIAs are serious. Call 911 and get medical help right away.

Why is a TIA an Emergency?

If you think you’re having a transient ischemic attack, also called a TIA or a mini-stroke, your symptoms may resolve quickly. But it is not safe to assume you don’t need urgent medical care. In fact, you should call 911 right away.

Warning Signs

The warning signs for a TIA are the same as a stroke and sudden onset of the following:

  • Weakness, numbness or paralysis on one side of your body
  • Slurred speech or difficulty understanding others
  • Blindness in one or both eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Severe headache with no apparent cause

Educate yourself on the warning signs of stroke — and do it F.A.S.T.

F – Face drooping

A – Arm weakness

S – Speech slurred

T – Time to call 911

A TIA can signal a future stroke. Take the warning seriously and don’t delay.