Transient ischaemic attack – Signs, treatment and reducing your risk

What is a transient ischaemic attack – TIA?

A transient ischaemic attack (TIA) or ‘mini stroke’ happens when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted for a short period of time.

It is often called a ‘mini-stroke’, as the signs are the same as those of a stroke, but they do not last as long.

The signs of a TIA may disappear in a few minutes and last no longer than 24 hours. They are often a warning that a stroke may occur.

What are the signs of a TIA?

The signs of a TIA depend on which part of the brain is not getting enough blood. They are the same as the signs of stroke and may include one or all of the following:

  • Weakness, numbness or paralysis of the face, arm or leg on either or both sides of the body
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding
  • Dizziness, loss of balance or an unexplained fall
  • Loss of vision, sudden blurred or decreased vision in one or both eyes
  • Headache, usually severe and of abrupt onset or unexplained change in the pattern of headaches
  • Difficulty swallowing

What should I do if I think I am having a TIA or mini stroke?

A TIA should never be ignored. If you, or someone you know, have any of the signs of a TIA, seek medical attention immediately.

Although the signs may be due to a migraine or an epileptic seizure, the sooner you seek help, the more likely the doctor will be able to say whether or not it was a TIA.

What should I do if the signs go away?

You should seek medical attention immediately even if the signs go away and you feel completely better.

A TIA is a strong warning that a stroke may happen. Stroke can lead to death or long term disability. It can be prevented with changes to your lifestyle or with medication. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.

What causes a TIA?

A TIA happens when blood going to the brain is stopped and then starts again. Blood is carried to the brain by blood vessels called arteries and a blood clot may cause a blockage that prevents blood moving through an artery. In some cases, a TIA may be caused by a small bleed in the brain.

When blood stops moving, the brain cannot get the oxygen and food it needs and brain cells in the area start to die. These cells usually die within minutes to a few hours after blood flow stops. Once blood flow starts again, the brain once again gets the oxygen and food it needs and the signs of TIA may disappear. Further clots may block blood flow to the brain for a short time (causing another TIA), or permanently (causing a stroke).

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