What is a TIA?

A transient ischaemic attack or TIA (also known as a mini-stroke) is the same as a stroke, but it lasts a short amount of time. It 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.

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 they 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 TIA

A TIA is caused by a clot cutting off the blood supply to part of your brain. 
 
The clot is temporary – it either dissolves on its own or moves, so that the blood supply returns to normal and your symptoms disappear.
 
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 call 999 with stroke symptoms, you should be taken to hospital. If you go to your GP after TIA symptoms, they can refer you to hospital for an assessment. If a TIA is suspected, you will be given aspirin to reduce the risk of a stroke.

Seeing a specialist

A GP or paramedic will ask you about what happened. If they think you may have had a TIA, they will arrange for you to see a specialist doctor or nurse within 24 hours of your symptoms. Your appointment with a specialist might be at a TIA clinic, or in a hospital stroke unit.

If a TIA is confirmed, doctors will try to find out how it happened. You will be given treatment and advice to reduce your risk of having a stroke in future.

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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