What is a TIA?

A TIA or transient ischaemic attack happens when a temporary blockage cuts off the blood supply to part of your brain. With a TIA the blockage either dissolves on its own or moves, so that the blood supply returns to normal and your stroke symptoms disappear.

A TIA or mini-stroke is the same as a stroke, except that the symptoms last for a short amount of time. Although your stroke symptoms may not last long, a TIA is still very serious. It is a sign that there is a problem and you are at risk of having a stroke. Because of this, a TIA is often called a warning stroke.

TIA symptoms

A TIA  has the same symptoms as a stroke, except that the symptoms only last for a short amount of time. The FAST test helps to spot the three most common signs of stroke or TIA. 

  • Face: Can the person smile? Has their face fallen on one side?
  • Arms: Can the person raise both arms and keep them there?
  • Speech problems: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say? Is their speech slurred?
  • Time: If you see any of these three signs, it's time to call 999.

 A stroke or TIA is a medical emergency. Always dial 999. The quicker the person arrives at a specialist stroke unit, the quicker they will receive appropriate treatment.

Causes of a mini-stroke

Like a stroke, a mini-stroke is caused by a blockage cutting off the blood supply to part of your brain. 
 
The only difference when you have a TIA is that the blockage is temporary – it either dissolves on its own or moves, so that the blood supply returns to normal and your symptoms disappear.
 
The blockage is usually a blood clot, although it can also be caused by other things, such as fatty material.
 
Blood clots often form in areas where your arteries have become narrowed or ‘furred up’ by fatty deposits. If you have a heart condition, such as atrial fibrillation, blood clots can form in the heart and move up into your brain. 

A TIA can be a warning sign of what's to come. You don’t want to wait for the worst.
Jean, stroke survivor

TIA diagnosis

If you, or someone you know, show any of the signs of a stroke or TIA you must call 999. If you think you have had a TIA but have not seen a doctor about it, you need to see your GP urgently.
 
When you go to hospital (or to your GP) you’ll be asked about the symptoms you had and how long they lasted. 
 
If the doctor thinks that you have had a TIA, you will be referred to someone who specialises in stroke for assessment and treatment. 
 
You should see a specialist within seven days, but if your doctor thinks you are at a high risk of having a stroke, they should make sure you see someone within 24 hours.

TIA treatment

When you see your stroke specialist, they may want you to have a brain scan to help them rule out anything else that could have caused your symptoms. 
 
They will also measure your blood pressure and carry out blood tests. This is to check for conditions that could have caused your TIA, such as diabetes or high cholesterol. You may also have other tests to check for other conditions. 
 
Once they’ve completed these tests, your specialist should talk to you about what you need to do to reduce your risk of having another TIA or a stroke. 
 
This may mean taking medication to treat any medical conditions that could be increasing your risk. It could also mean making some changes to your lifestyle, such as giving up smoking or doing more exercise.
 
Anyone who has had a TIA is at an increased risk of stroke. So don’t ignore it. Get it treated urgently.

Jean talks about her husband’s TIA

Professor Peter Rothwell talks about TIA

Find out more

  • There's much more information about TIA in our guide Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA)
  • Find out more about TIA on My Stroke Guide. As well as free access to trusted advice, information and support 24/7, My Stroke Guide connects you to our online community, to find out how others manage their recovery.

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