The symptoms of a TIA (also known as a “ministroke”) usually pass quickly. However, the symptoms should still be taken seriously as a TIA can be a potential warning sign of a more serious stroke in the future.

A stroke is a disruption of blood flow to brain tissue. It’s most often caused by a blockage in a blood vessel that supplies the brain with blood (ischemic stroke). Less commonly, it can be brought on by the rupture of a blood vessel in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is briefly disrupted. With a TIA, you typically experience specific neurologic symptoms for less than 24 hours, although symptoms often go away within an hour. Also, with a TIA, there will be no evidence of blood vessel obstruction on brain imaging tests.

Although a TIA is different from a stroke, it’s still a serious event. A TIA can often be a warning sign that you’re at risk for a serious stroke in the future. That’s why it’s important to get prompt medical attention after a TIA. By getting a diagnosis for the underlying cause of a TIA, you may be able to take steps to reduce your risk of a more serious stroke down the road.

A TIA and a stroke are similar in that they are sudden events that cause noticeable symptoms. Both conditions should be treated as medical emergencies.

The main differences between a TIA and a stroke are the duration and severity of symptoms. Also, on imaging tests, a TIA does not show an obstruction to blood flow in the brain, unlike a stroke.

With a stroke, the symptoms will continue or worsen until healthy blood flow is restored to the affected part of the brain. The longer it takes for a stroke to be treated, the greater the risk that more brain tissue will be damaged. Stroke recovery depends on what area of the brain was affected and how much brain tissue was damaged.

Unlike a stroke, symptoms of a TIA may last just a few minutes and usually resolve in less than an hour. This brief interruption of blood flow to the brain seldom causes permanent damage or disability. However, if you experience multiple TIAs, the frequent disruptions of blood flow may begin to cause changes in brain function.

TIA and stroke symptoms

Strokes and TIAs share many of the same symptoms. As already mentioned, TIA symptoms don’t last as long, and the symptoms are often milder than those of a stroke. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • numbness or weakness, usually on one side of the body
  • difficulty speaking or understanding what others are saying
  • lack of coordination or loss of balance
  • sudden, severe headache
  • trouble seeing with one or both eyes
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TIA symptoms typically last less than an hour, although sometimes symptoms may linger for up to 24 hours. Most often, a TIA lasts a few minutes, sometimes ending before you’ve become fully aware of what’s happened.

Even if TIA symptoms resolve quickly and you feel fine, you should still get medical attention as soon as possible, preferably within 60 minutes of symptom onset. The sooner you get evaluated, the easier it is for medical professionals to diagnose the underlying cause and to ensure you get the right treatment.

Because TIA symptoms tend to be short-lived, it’s easy to dismiss them as harmless. However, a TIA still requires urgent medical evaluation.

A TIA is considered a major risk factor for a stroke.

According to a 2021 study of individuals who’d had a TIA, and were monitored for an average of nearly 9 years, 29.5% of the study participants had a stroke after experiencing a TIA. More than one-third of these strokes occurred within 90 days of the TIA.

However, researchers noted that post-TIA stroke risk is lower than it was decades ago. This may be due to the fact that more is known about stroke prevention today.

While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent a stroke, there are steps you can take to lower your stroke risk.

A 2017 review suggests that with proper evaluation and treatment of a TIA, and the adoption of a health-promoting lifestyle, you may be able to reduce your risk of a post-TIA stroke by as much as 80%.

If your doctor prescribes anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs to reduce the risk of blood clots, be sure to take the medications exactly as prescribed. The same is true for medication to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Other steps you can take to lower your stroke risk after a TIA include:

  • Monitoring your blood pressure at home and taking steps to keep your blood pressure within a healthy range.
  • Keeping your blood sugar well managed.
  • Staying physically active all or most days of the week.
  • Quitting smoking if you smoke.
  • Eating a diet that supports robust cardiovascular health, such as the Mediterranean diet or DASH diet.
  • Maintaining a moderate weight, as advised by your healthcare team.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 for women; or avoiding alcohol entirely.
  • Keeping up with your doctors’ appointments and regular health screenings and tests.

Although a TIA is known as a “ministroke,” that does not mean it’s not serious. With both a TIA and stroke, blood flow to the brain is interrupted.

With a TIA, the disruption is brief — sometimes just a few minutes — and the symptoms resolve on their own. With a stroke, the disruption is longer lasting, and medical treatment is needed to restore proper blood flow to the affected part of the brain.

A TIA typically doesn’t cause damage to the brain tissue. However, a TIA is significant because it can be an early warning sign that a stroke may happen in the future.

Getting immediate medical attention for a TIA helps doctors diagnose the underlying cause and prescribe the appropriate treatment. This can help reduce your risk of a more serious stroke down the road.