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What Is TIA (Mini-Stroke)? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Shara Spilker

Shara has taught nursing in both AD and BSN programs and holds a master's degree in nursing.

Over 500,000 people might experience a TIA, or mini-stroke, each year. Forty percent of these people will have a full stroke within three months. Learn how to recognize signs and symptoms of a TIA and how to get treatment.

Definition

  • Transient = 'passing especially quickly'
  • Ischemic = 'deficient supply of blood to a body part'
  • Attack = 'causes something harmful or destructive to happen'

A TIA is a temporary drop in the blood supply, in this case, to the brain. This can cause temporary damage to the brain because brain cells aren't getting enough oxygen. Let's look at an example.

A TIA is a temporary blockage.
TIA or Stroke

Having a TIA

It may not be just a headache.
headache

You're 24, and you and your roommate just finished a 5-mile run. As you get ready to hop in the shower, you feel dizzy, and your head is hurting. You tell your roommate, but she just stares at you with an odd look on her face. You realize that your words came out as garbled gibberish. You look in the mirror; your mouth and one eye are drooping to one side. You reach up to touch your face, but find you can't raise one arm. What's happening to you?

You have signs and symptoms of a TIA, or Transient Ischemic Attack, more commonly known as a mini-stroke. Your roommate recognizes you have the same symptoms her grandmother had when she had a stroke, and she quickly calls 9-1-1. Fortunately for you, your roommate has learned about FAST.

Signs & Symptoms - FAST

Learning the signs and symptoms of a TIA could help save yourself or someone you love, as in the case of our example.

Face - The eye or mouth of a person who's had a TIA might droop to one side. Ask if he can smile; if he can't smile correctly, call 9-1-1.

Arms - Ask the patient to lift and hold his arms in the air; often, one arm can't be raised due to arm weakness or numbness. Call 9-1-1.

Speech - Ask the patient to say something simple; if it comes out garbled, call 9-1-1.

Time - There is a window of just 3-4 hours to get a correct diagnosis and treatment to avoid permanent damage. T stands for 'Time to call 9-1-1' when you see any ONE of these symptoms.

Knowing FAST can save a life.
FAST

Some people who have suffered a TIA have dizziness and a bad headache. Some have trouble understanding what is being said to them or swallowing their saliva. Some even lose consciousness. Symptoms vary depending on what part of the brain is not receiving enough oxygen.

Knowing about FAST is particularly important if you live or work with someone in a higher risk group, such as an older person, a person with a heart or blood condition, or a person with diabetes.

Young stroke victims sometimes are misdiagnosed and sent home from the hospital without proper treatment. Therefore, make sure younger victims are taken to a certified stroke center, a facility specially prepared to make a quick but comprehensive diagnosis and initiate immediate treatment.

With prompt diagnosis and treatment by a stroke team, a patient likely will recover fully, and symptoms will disappear within 24 hours. Some patients don't even have symptoms by the time they reach the hospital, which is why they might be misdiagnosed or not see their doctor. It doesn't mean the patient is okay; remember that a TIA can be a warning sign of a bigger stroke coming. Even if symptoms disappear within a couple of minutes, the patient should head to the hospital.

Go to a certified stroke center
stroke center

Causes

Two main arteries called the carotid arteries supply the brain's blood supply. They then branch off to smaller blood vessels that reach all the brain tissues. A TIA is typically caused by a blood clot, a mass of clotted blood, temporarily blocking one of these blood vessels.

A blood clot in carotid artery
brain blood clot

What caused the blood clot? There are many possible causes since blood clots can travel through the blood stream from one body part to another. Heart or blood conditions and even infections can cause blood clots. Sometimes blood vessels become very narrow due to a collection of hard, fatty deposits, called plaque, which can temporarily reduce the amount of oxygenated blood the brain receives.

Risk factors for a TIA include the following:

  • Sex: Males have a higher risk of TIA
  • Ethnicity: Black people have a higher risk of TIA
  • Age: Risk increases with age
  • Family history of stroke or TIA
  • Cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Alcohol use: Regular drinkers of large amounts of alcohol are at higher risk than non-drinkers
  • Use of some illegal drugs
  • Any condition or medication that places you at higher risk for blood clots, including oral contraceptives

Risk factors for a TIA or Stroke
Stroke Risk Factors

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