A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a kind of neurologic deficit that lasts less than 24 hours, usually just a few minutes. It’s also called a mini-stroke. It occurs when part of the brain isn’t getting enough blood.
TIAs are more common in men older than 60. People have a higher risk of stroke if they had a TIA before.
Plaques or blood clots in arteries can block blood flow. Most of the time, the body breaks down these plaques, so blood flow begins again and symptoms go away. A TIA is caused by a blood clot that gets trapped in one of the brain’s blood vessels. This clot usually comes from the heart or carotid arteries in the neck and is made of blood products or fat. The trapped clot stops blood from going to part of the brain, so the brain cannot get the oxygen from the blood.
Symptoms depend on where in the brain the TIA occurs. The most common symptom is weakness in a part of the body. Other symptoms include confusion, dizziness, double vision, memory loss, numbness, speech and swallowing problems, tingling, vision changes, and trouble walking.
In 70% of cases, symptoms go away in less than 10 minutes, and in 90% they go away in less than 4 hours.
The health care provider will make a diagnosis from the medical history and physical examination. Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will be done to look for abnormalities in the brain. Other tests may include sonogram of the carotid arteries (blood vessels in the neck that bring blood to the brain) to look for blockages, electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG) to look for irregular heart rhythms, and ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram) to look for the presence of blood clots in the heart that may travel to the brain.
Treatment depends on the cause. The health care provider will be most concerned about preventing a stroke.
Conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, tobacco abuse, inactive lifestyle, and high cholesterol level are treated. Aspirin, clopidogrel, and warfarin may be given to thin the blood and prevent clots.
Surgery (carotid endoarterectomy) may be needed to open severely blocked carotid arteries (over 70% blockage).
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