A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is anything but harmless.
Learning you’ve had a transient ischemic attack (TIA) might feel like a relief. It’s only a “mini stroke,” and it doesn’t cause permanent damage. In some cases, you may not have even experienced noticeable symptoms.
“Since TIAs don’t result in stroke [and] don’t result in a permanent blockage of the brain, many times people say, ‘Well why do I really care?’” says Carolyn Brockington, MD, a neurologist at Mount Sinai Hospital.
But the truth is that having a mini stroke does not mean you’ve dodged a bullet or you’re off the hook. If anything, a TIA is a warning sign of being at risk for a stroke in the future.
What Is a TIA?
To understand what TIAs mean for your health, it helps to know what they actually are.
What sets a mini stroke apart from a full-blown ischemic stroke is that word transient—meaning “temporary.” During a TIA, blood flow to the brain stops for a only brief period, according to the National Stroke Association. The blockage can mimic symptoms of stroke, but it doesn’t usually cause long-term brain damage.
TIA symptoms may be less severe and noticeable, so you might confuse them for a random headache or dizzy spell. The trademark feature is that they happen suddenly and only last for a short period of time, according to Dr. Brockington.
A common story from people who have had a TIA is that they are walking normally, and “all of a sudden they feel their right leg’s dragging, and maybe their arm’s a little weak on one side,” says Dr. Brockington. “Then a few minutes later it’s gone.”
What It Means to Have a TIA
“TIAs serve as warning signs,” says Dr. Brockington. “Many times, people who will ultimately develop a stroke have had small TIAs along the way.”
In fact, the American Stroke Association (ASA) refers to TIAs not as “mini strokes,” but as “warning strokes.” About a third of people who experience a TIA end up having a more serious stroke within a year, according to the ASA.
Having a TIA is serious, but it could still play a positive role in managing your health. Just like with a full-blown stroke, a TIA may be caused by hypertension, high cholesterol, or smoking.
“That’s the opportunity to figure out when or why something is happening in the brain,” says Dr. Brockington.
If you have a TIA, your doctor can run tests to pinpoint the problem, such as issues with the blood, blood vessels, or heart. For example, if your doctor sees that your blood pressure is too high, he or she may help you treat high blood pressure to lower your risk of having a more serious stroke.
Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes for a healthy heart or prescribe medications, such as blood thinners, to help prevent future stroke.
If you think you may have had a so-called mini stroke, keep this in mind: “Just because the symptoms went away doesn’t mean there’s not a problem,” says Dr. Brockington. “Could it happen again? Certainly, if we don’t identify the real reason why it occurred.”
Dr. Brockington is a neurologist and director of the Stroke Center at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s and Mount Sinai West Hospital in New York City.
00:00:00,000 --> 00:00:02,006
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TIA stands for transient ischemic attack.
00:00:05,500 --> 00:00:09,440
Since TIAs don't result in stroke,
they don't result in a permanent injury to
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the brain, many times people say well,
why do I care if I have a TIA?
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00:00:16,873 --> 00:00:19,670
TIA serve as warning signs.
00:00:19,670 --> 00:00:23,506
Many times people who will ultimately
develop a stroke has had small
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TIAs along the way, a sort of knocking
on the door saying something is wrong.
00:00:27,730 --> 00:00:30,210
That's the opportunity
to figure out when or
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why something is happening in the brain.
00:00:32,045 --> 00:00:33,443
Are they having a problem
with the blood vessel?
00:00:33,443 --> 00:00:35,240
Is there something wrong with the heart?
00:00:35,240 --> 00:00:36,670
Is there something wrong with the blood?
00:00:36,670 --> 00:00:38,800
Are they not treating their
blood pressure appropriately?
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Stroke occurs from an interruption of
blood flow to the brain over a long
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period of time and
causes a permanent injury to the brain.
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TIAs are generally shorter and
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you have symptoms during the time that not
enough blood is getting to the brain, but
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the blood flow is restored and
there's no permanent damage.
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The TIA would be, maybe someone developed
weakness on one side, their arm is weak,
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or their leg is weak, but it happens
suddenly, but then it goes away.
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We all know that's not normal.
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Common story about someone having a TIA,
maybe they're walking down the street,
00:01:07,330 --> 00:01:08,160
00:01:08,160 --> 00:01:11,150
And now, all of a sudden,
they feel their right leg dragging.
00:01:11,150 --> 00:01:13,140
And then maybe their arm's
a little weak on that side,
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and then in a few minutes
later it is gone.
00:01:15,390 --> 00:01:18,590
Just because the symptoms went away
doesn't mean that there wasn't a problem.
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There was a problem during a short period
of time, but the blood flow was restored.
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Could it happen again?
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Certainly, if we do not identify
the real reason why it occurred.
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Don’t be fooled by TIA symptoms. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Health Publishing, 2020. (Accessed on April 21, 2021 at https://www.health.harvard.edu/stroke/dont-be-fooled-by-tia-symptoms.)
TIA (transient ischemic attack). Dallas, TX: American Stroke Association. (Accessed on April 21, 2021 at https://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/AboutStroke/TypesofStroke/TIA/Transient-Ischemic-Attack-TIA_UCM_492003_SubHomePage.jsp.)
Transient ischemic attack. Washington, DC: U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on April 21, 2021 at https://medlineplus.gov/transientischemicattack.html.)
What is TIA? Centennial, CO: National Stroke Association. (Accessed on July 30, 2018 at http://www.stroke.org/understand-stroke/what-stroke/what-tia.)