TIAs Explained

You may have heard the term TIA (sometimes called a mini-stroke), referring to a transient ischemic attack, but what it is exactly and how does it affect brain function?

During a TIA, blood flow to a part of the brain is stopped for a short period of time.  These attacks can cause stroke-like symptoms but do not generally cause permanent brain damage, according to the National Stroke Association.  They are, however, a warning sign of future strokes and should be taken seriously.

TIAs are usually caused by one of the following: low blood flow due to a narrowing of a major artery carrying blood to the brain, a blood clot which can break off and travel to the brain blocking a blood vessel or narrowing of smaller blood vessels in the brain caused by a plaque build-up.

In nearly half of all patients who have suffered a stroke, a TIA has occurred a few days prior and 40 per cent of those who have a TIA will also have a stroke.  Symptoms of a TIA are the same as stroke and include:

  • sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, sudden severe headache without known cause.

If you recognize these stroke symptoms call 911; quick treatment can lessen damage to the brain.

Risk factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, inactivity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease should be managed with medication and lifestyle changes to prevent future stroke.   In some cases, if a TIA is blocking a main after, such as the carotid artery, surgery to open blood flow may be recommended.

To calculate your risk for TIA visit the National Stroke Association website at http://www.stroke.org/understand-stroke/what-stroke/what-tia/tia-risk-calculator .