Mini Stroke (Transient Ischemic Attack)

Written by Kristeen Moore | Published on July 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Overview

During a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a mini stroke, blood stops flowing to the brain for a short period of time. However, a mini stroke doesn’t kill brain cells like a stroke does. A mini stroke causes symptoms that mimic those of a stroke. This condition is often a precursor to a real stroke in the future.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a TIA can decrease your life expectancy by up to 20 percent. Immediate medical attention is necessary to help prevent your risk of stroke (AHA).

Symptoms of TIA

Identifying the symptoms of a TIA can be challenging. Symptoms are similar to those of a stroke, but many people make the mistake of not seeking medical attention because the symptoms are less severe and don’t last as long. While a stroke can last one to two days, a TIA can last anywhere from one to 24 hours at a time.

Some common signs of a TIA include:

  • sudden increase in blood pressure
  • muscle weakness
  • numbness in an arm or leg
  • dizziness
  • sudden fatigue
  • unconsciousness
  • confusion
  • temporary memory loss
  • body tingling
  • personality changes
  • trouble speaking
  • lack of balance
  • vision troubles

Many of these symptoms are experienced by stroke patients. Always call 911 if you suspect you or a loved one have experienced a TIA or a stroke.

Causes and Risk Factors

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the most common cause of a mini stroke. Hypertension is also the leading cause of strokes, so a TIA is often a warning. It is important to control your blood pressure immediately to prevent future TIAs and strokes.

Other common causes and risk factors include:

  • blood clots
  • blood vessel destruction
  • narrow blood vessels in or around the brain
  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • heredity

According to the AHA, people 65 and older are at a higher risk of dying from a stroke after suffering a TIA.

Diagnosis of a TIA

A TIA is a reason to seek emergency medical help. At the hospital, your doctor will run tests to confirm whether or not you suffered a TIA. Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can both give clues as to what caused the TIA. For example, it could have been caused by a clogged artery in the heart or a blood clot in the neck.

If your doctor suspects a problem with your heart, he or she may order an echocardiogram to get better images of the area. It is important to learn the underlying cause of the TIA so that you and your doctor can work to prevent future TIAs and strokes.

Once you are evaluated in the emergency room, you will need to visit your primary care physician for a plan of action. Depending on the exact cause of the mini stroke, you might be referred to a specialist.

Preventing Future Strokes

A TIA generally does not cause permanent brain damage. At the same time, patients shouldn’t take a TIA lightly. TIAs are often indicative of underlying health problems that can cause real strokes in the future. More than 10 percent of TIA patients have a stroke within three months. It is important to take mini strokes seriously to prevent a possible life-threatening event.

Treatments will also help to prevent strokes in the future. Common plans of action include:

  • medications to control high blood pressure
  • cholesterol medications
  • blood sugar control in diabetic patients
  • aspirin to prevent blood clots
  • surgery for clogged arteries in the neck

If your doctor prescribes medications, you will likely need to take them for a long period of time to prevent a stroke. Regular physician follow-ups are also required to monitor your condition. Lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and exercise, may also complement stroke prevention treatment plans.

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