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Learning About Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

What is a TIA?

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) means that the blood flow to a part of the brain is blocked for a short time. A TIA feels like a stroke but usually lasts only 10 to 20 minutes. Unlike a stroke, a TIA does not cause lasting brain damage.

A TIA is usually caused by a blood clot that blocks blood flow in the brain. A blood clot can form in another part of the body (often the heart) and travel through the bloodstream to the brain. When blood flow to part of the brain is blocked, the brain cells in that area are affected within seconds. This causes symptoms in parts of the body controlled by those brain cells. When the blood clot dissolves, blood flow returns, and the symptoms go away.

Blood clots can form when blood vessels are damaged by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). An abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation also can cause blood clots.

Sometimes a TIA is caused by a sharp drop in blood pressure that reduces blood flow to the brain. This is called a "low-flow" TIA. It is not as common as a TIA caused by a blood clot.

What happens after a TIA?

TIA is a serious warning sign of a possible stroke in the future. If you have other medical conditions such as coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis, you may also have an increased risk for a heart attack. Talk to your doctor about your risk. Understanding your risk will help you and your doctor plan your treatment options.

You can do a lot to lower your chance of having another TIA or a stroke. Medicines can help, and you may also need to make lifestyle changes.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a TIA are the same as symptoms of a stroke. But symptoms of a TIA don't last very long. Most of the time, they go away in 10 to 20 minutes. They may include:

  • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
  • Sudden vision changes.
  • Sudden trouble speaking.
  • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
  • Sudden problems with walking or balance.

If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 or other emergency services right away.

Ask your family, friends, and co-workers to learn the signs of a TIA. They may notice these signs before you do. Make sure they know to call 911 if these signs appear.

How is a TIA treated?

If you've had a TIA, you may need more testing and treatment after you get checked by your doctor. If you have a high risk of stroke, you may have to stay in the hospital for treatment.

Your treatment for a TIA may include taking medicines to prevent blood clots or a stroke, or having surgery to reopen narrow arteries.

How can you prevent another TIA?

  • Work with your doctor to treat any health problems you have. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation, and diabetes all raise your chances of having a stroke.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicine exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Have a healthy lifestyle.
    • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good. Smoking makes a stroke more likely.
    • Lose weight if you need to. A healthy weight will help you keep your heart and body healthy.
    • Be active. Ask your doctor what type and level of activity are safe for you.
    • Eat heart-healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, and high-fibre foods.
    • Limit alcohol to 3 drinks a day for men and 2 drinks a day for women.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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