Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA/Mini Stroke)

Transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke, is a temporary dysfunction of the brain due to a shortage of blood and oxygen. TIA is a serious condition that lasts no longer than 24 hours. It serves as a warning for a potential stroke.

What Causes TIA?

Blood and oxygen are carried to the brain through major blood vessels in the neck. The blood then passes through a series of blood vessels in the brain. A TIA occurs when the blood flow through the neck or brain vessels is reduced. A narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels may reduce blood flow.

Narrowing of the blood vessels may occur with:

  • Atherosclerosis — Build up of plaque in the blood vessels
  • Vasculitis — swelling of the blood vessels

Blood vessels can also become blocked or obstructed by a clot or clump that is floating in the blood. This may be caused by:

  • A piece of blood clot or plaque that has broken off of another location
  • Blood and blood-clotting disorders such as:
    • Severe anemia — too few red blood cells
    • Polycythemia — too many red blood cells
    • Hyperviscosity — abnormal thickening of the blood
  • Endocarditis — an infection of the lining of the heart

Certain chronic medical conditions can affect the health of your blood vessels. These conditions may increase your chances of TIA:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Heart disease

TIAs are more common in men than women in younger age groups. They are also more common in people age 45 years or older, with the highest risk between ages 60-80 years. Other factors that increase your chance for TIA include:

  • History of previous TIAs
  • Smoking
  • Poor diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Sleep apnea

Symptoms of TIA

TIA symptoms occur abruptly. They usually last less than an hour but they may persist for up to 24 hours. The symptoms are different depending on the part of the brain that is affected. TIA symptoms are similar to those of a stroke and need immediate medical attention.

Symptoms may include:

  • Blindness in one eye, often described as a window shade dropping, and/or other visual problems
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling of the face, arm, leg or one side of the body (usually affects one side of the body, but there are exceptions)
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding words
  • Lightheadedness, unsteadiness of gait or falling
  • Trouble with balance or coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sudden confusion or loss of memory

Diagnosing TIA

Your doctor will conduct a physical exam and ask about your symptoms and medical history. Your doctor will also assess your blood pressure and nervous system to determine your stroke risk.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Doppler ultrasound
  • Echocardiogram
  • CT scan of the head
  • CT angiogram (CTA)
  • MRI of the head
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
  • Arteriogram/angiogram

Treatments for TIA

A TIA places you at greater risk for having a stroke. The risk is actually highest in the first week after your TIA. Therefore, rapid treatment aims to decrease your risk of stroke. This can be done with lifestyle changes, medication and surgery.


You must quit smoking and manage conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and/or high cholesterol.

Medications to Lower Your TIA Risk

Your doctor may prescribe medications to lower you blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. This will help lower your risk factors.

To decrease the risk of clot formation your doctor may recommend antiplatelet agents, such as aspirin. You may also need anticoagulants if the blood clot came from your heart due to atrial fibrillation.

Surgical Options for Artery Blockage

If you have at least a 70% blockage in your carotid artery (in your neck), you doctor may recommend:

  • A carotid endarterectomy to remove the plaque deposits
  • Other less invasive procedures, such as intra-arterial stenting to widen an artery

How to Prevent a Transient Ischemic Attack

To reduce your chance of TIA or stroke, take these steps:

  • Exercise regularly, with your doctor's approval.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. 
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Control blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes if you have these conditions.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.