A transient ischemic attack (TIA), also called a “mini stroke,” occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow in the brain. The block is temporary (transient), and unlike an actual stroke, TIA doesn’t generally kill brain tissue.
Symptoms of a mini stroke are often brief, normally lasting a few minutes to a couple of hours, though some people may have symptoms for up to 24 hours. Knowing the signs of a TIA can help you get the treatment you need as early as possible.
Learn more about the signs and symptoms of a TIA.
Symptoms of a TIA can last as briefly as one minute, according to the American Stroke Association. Often, the symptoms are gone by the time a patient gets to the doctor.
Because symptoms can be fleeting, descriptions of these attacks are subjective. Symptoms may not be present while being evaluated by a doctor, so the patient is left to describe the event after their symptoms have disappeared. A mini stroke patient’s description may be less precise than a stroke patients’ description.
The most common TIA symptoms involve motor dysfunction. Most often, this manifests as weakness on one side of the body, which is called hemiparesis.
These symptoms can range from mild to severe. If you, a friend, or a bystander experiences a mini stroke, you may notice mild symptoms, like clumsiness of the hands or fingers. Or, you may notice more serious symptoms, like a complete inability to walk, move the arms, or move facial muscles.
Most frequently, a TIA leads to weakness on just one side of the body, including the side of the face, one arm, and one leg. But, the behavior of the blood clot in the brain will determine exactly where the weakness occurs.
Symptoms can also be expressed in various ways. For example, a patient may complain of weakness on both sides of the body. It’s also possible for a patient who is walking at the time of the mini stroke to complain of leg pain, overlooking arm and face weakness.
Or, a person may experience weakness limited to only the face, arm, or leg.
TIA patients may temporarily find themselves unable to speak. After a TIA, patients may tell their doctor that they had difficulty recalling words during the event. Other speech problems may include trouble saying a word or understanding words.
This condition is called dysphasia. In fact, dysphasia may be the only symptom of the mini stroke. Trouble speaking indicates that the blockage or blood clot that caused the TIA occurred in the dominant brain hemisphere.
Mini stroke patients frequently report one symptom that is not often present in stroke patients: transient monocular blindness (TMB).
In TMB, the patient’s vision in one eye becomes suddenly dimmed or obscured. This may last for seconds or minutes. In TMB, the world turns grey or objects look blurry. A TMB patient may also become aggravated when exposed to bright light. The patient may not be able to read words on white pages.
If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, pay attention to episodes of vertigo, dizziness, lack of coordination, and gait disturbance. High blood pressure can lead to damage on the inner walls of the arteries. This creates plaque that can rupture and release blood clots.
Other risk factors for stroke include high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and atrial fibrillation. According to one study, Men are more likely than women to suffer TIA. Older people are more at risk. And, interestingly, TIAs are reportedly most frequent on Mondays.
While a TIA doesn’t lead to permanent brain damage, it’s urgent that you get a medical examination because you’re at risk for experiencing a stroke.
Your doctor can order CT images or MRI tests. An ultrasound can check the state of your carotid artery, looking for narrowed areas. You may also get an ECG and chest X-ray as part of a thorough check-up of your circulatory system.
With your doctor’s help, you can take steps to prevent a stroke and stay on the road to good health.