Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)


What Is It?

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), sometimes called a “mini-stroke,” is an episode of strokelike symptoms that lasts less than 24 hours, usually five to 20 minutes. In a TIA, circulation to a part of the brain is interrupted briefly, then restored. This interruption can result from a narrowing of a brain artery because of atherosclerosis or to a small floating blood clot that entered the bloodstream from somewhere else in the body, often the heart, and temporarily blocked a brain artery.


Symptoms of a TIA are the same as those of stroke, except for the fact that they disappear in less than 24 hours.

These symptoms can include:

  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
  • Sudden, severe numbness in any part of the body
  • Visual disturbance, including sudden loss of vision
  • Difficulty walking, including staggering or veering
  • Coordination problems in the arms and hands
  • Slurred speech or inability to speak


Your doctor will ask about your current symptoms and your past medical history, including conditions that increase your risk of stroke — high blood pressure, diabetes,High cholesterol, smoking and certain types of heart disease. He or she will examine you and will do a test called an electrocardiogram (EKG). While examining you, your doctor may pay special attention to the circulation in your neck, where major arteries supplying the brain are located. In examining your neck, he or she will listen with a stethoscope for the turbulent sounds of blood flow through narrowed arteries. Blood tests also will be done.

To help pinpoint the cause of a TIA, your doctor may order a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of your brain. To evaluate flow through blood vessels, your doctor may do other tests, including a Doppler ultrasound, magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) or X-ray angiography. If your doctor suspects that floating blood clots are coming from your heart, special heart tests may be necessary.

Expected Duration

A TIA lasts less than 24 hours, usually five to 20 minutes.


You can help to prevent TIAs by controlling your risk factors for stroke, especially high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes. If you have high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s recommendations for modifying your diet and taking your medication. If you smoke, quit. If you are diabetic, monitor your blood-sugar level frequently, follow your diet, and take your insulin or oral medication as your doctor has prescribed. It is also wise to exercise regularly and to eat a healthy diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables but low in saturated fats and cholesterol.


In treating TIAs, the ultimate goal is to prevent a full-fledged stroke. Medications used for this purpose include anticoagulants (anti-clotting medications) and antiplatelet medications such as aspirin, ticlopidine (Ticlid) or clopidogrel (Plavix).

If you have severe narrowing of part of the carotid artery in the neck, surgery called carotid endarterectomy may be done to correct the problem and help prevent TIAs and stroke. This usually is done if the artery is narrowed by 70 percent or more. When the artery is narrowed by 50 percent to 70 percent, the benefits of surgery are less definite, but this operation may be reasonable at hospitals with an excellent success rate with this operation.

When To Call A Professional

Call your doctor immediately whenever anyone has symptoms of stroke, even if these symptoms last only a few minutes. TIAs can be a warning sign that a stroke is about to happen, and require prompt attention.


Having a history of one or more TIAs increases your risk of stroke by more than nine times compared to someone who has never had a TIA. About 36 percent of people who have full-fledged strokes had experienced one or more TIAs beforehand.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised:

Diseases and Conditions Center

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.