A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a brief loss in brain function. It happens when the brain does not get enough blood because a blood vessel is blocked for a short time. It does not cause any lasting damage to the brain.
The symptoms of a TIA are similar to the symptoms of a stroke. A TIA is different from a stroke because it does not cause lasting damage. However, if you have had a TIA, you have a high risk of having a stroke. Getting a diagnosis and treatment for a TIA right away can help prevent a stroke. It is important to diagnose a TIA in order to prevent the damage and disability a stroke could cause.
TIAs may be caused by anything that briefly blocks the blood supply to a part of the brain. The blood supply may be blocked by:
Each part of the brain performs a specific function. The symptoms of a TIA depend on which part of the brain loses its blood supply. Common symptoms of a TIA are:
The attack begins without warning and usually lasts 2 to 30 minutes. Rarely does an attack last longer than 1 to 2 hours. You may have several TIAs over a period of days or weeks.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history. He or she will ask when the symptoms occurred, how long they lasted, and what parts of your body were affected. A physical exam may show a heart problem that can produce blood clots or narrowed arteries leading to the brain.
Tests used to diagnose a TIA are:
If your healthcare provider thinks you may have a heart problem, you may also wear a continuous heart monitor to see how your heart functions during an entire day.
You may need to stay in the hospital for complete diagnosis or if your provider determines that you have a high risk of stroke.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe some medicine--for example, a drug that helps prevent blood clots or a drug to lower your cholesterol. Aspirin is usually recommended after a TIA. If you are already taking aspirin, your provider may prescribe a higher dose or a different medicine to help prevent clots.
If the blood vessels in the neck leading to the brain are more than 70% narrowed, you may have an operation called carotid angioplasty or carotid endarterectomy.
Treatment also includes changing your lifestyle to try to control atherosclerosis (see the guidelines for good health that follow).
Often the symptoms of a TIA go away within a few minutes. The effects are usually gone within 24 hours.
It is important to understand that although the symptoms last just a short time, a TIA occurs because of an underlying serious problem that must be treated. People who do not receive medical attention for TIAs have a high risk of a stroke. Treatment can greatly reduce your risk of having a stroke.
Follow your healthcare provider's advice for preventing another TIA or a stroke. Take any medicines exactly as prescribed. Do not take any other medicines, including nonprescription drugs, without letting your healthcare provider know.
Follow these general guidelines for good health: