8 Surprising Facts About Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN on February 6, 2021
  • Female Patient Being Reassured By Doctor In Hospital Room
    TIAs are warnings of a potentially dangerous stroke.
    Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are often called mini-strokes or warning strokes. A TIA has the same symptoms as a stroke but TIAs are transient (temporary), sometimes only minutes long. Because they cause symptoms for such a short time, not everyone takes TIAs seriously. However, a TIA is a warning sign that a more serious stroke may occur. What do you know about TIA facts? Find out who gets them, TIA symptoms, and how to reduce your risk of having one.
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    1. Up to 500,000 adults in the United States each year have TIAs.
    Each year, an estimated half a million adults in the United States have at least one TIA. Many of these people will go on to have more TIAs or a full-blown stroke. When you first notice TIA symptoms, there is no way of knowing if you are having a TIA or a stroke. For this reason, TIAs should be treated as medical emergencies, no matter when or how they occur.
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    2. TIAs have the same cause as strokes.
    The most common type of stroke, an ischemic stroke, is caused by a blocked artery. The blockage keeps blood from getting to your brain, depriving the brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. However, unlike a stroke, blockages that cause a TIA move or dissolve on their own before any permanent damage is done. The most common cause is atherosclerosis, a condition where plaque (fatty deposits from cholesterol) builds up along the arterial walls. The buildup itself can cause a narrowing of the artery, restricting blood flow, or, a piece of plaque can break away and move towards the brain.
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    3. TIAs can have other causes, aside from a blockage.
    Just like strokes, TIAs can have other causes aside from a blockage in the artery. TIAs can also result from spasms in the arterial wall. Spasms can be caused by smoking, exposure to cold, use of illegal drugs (especially amphetamines or cocaine), and extreme emotional stress. TIAs may also occur due to too little oxygen reaching the brain. This could be the result of an illness, like anemia or leukemia, or poisoning, as with carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Senior man having a stroke
    4. A full stroke can follow after signs of a mini stroke
    A TIA is called a warning stroke because almost one-third of adults in the U.S. who have any type of stroke had at least one TIA, often within a year of the stroke. When looking at ischemic strokes alone, up to 40% of people who had an ischemic stroke had at least one TIA before the stroke. The risk of having a stroke is highest within 48 hours of a TIA. Doctors have also found strokes that follow TIAs are often more severe than they are for people who do not have TIAs.
  • man-looking-at-glass-of-red-wine
    5. Certain lifestyle factors can increase your risk of having TIAs.
    Many aspects of someone’s lifestyle can increase the risk of having a TIA. Risk factors that make you vulnerable to having a TIA or subsequent stroke include smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, using illegal drugs, consuming a high fat or high salt diet, and being obese. These are called modifiable risk factors and by adopting a healthier lifestyle, the risk of TIA can drop. If you find it hard to cut back or to change some of your habits, speak with your doctor about the most important changes you should make and how best to go about making them.
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    6. Some TIA risk factors are unavoidable.
    While lifestyle risk factors are modifiable, some others are not. If you are over 55, a man, or you have African American or Hispanic heritage, you have a higher risk of TIAs. Certain illnesses, like heart disease, high blood pressure, sickle cell disease, or diabetes are also risk factors, as well as taking oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy. Speak with your doctor about how you can reduce your own risk if you fall into any of these groups.
  • Nurse examining patient in hospital room
    7. TIAs are a medical emergency.
    It’s well known that a stroke is a medical emergency, but many people don’t realize that a TIA is as well, no matter how short the amount of time the symptoms appeared. If you experience a TIA, call 911 or have someone bring you to a local emergency room so you can be evaluated as quickly as possible. TIA symptoms include numbness or weakness in your face, arms or legs (usually one side of the body); difficulty speaking; trouble understanding; confusion; difficulty with vision; lack of balance; or inability to walk.
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    8. Stroke prevention equals TIA prevention.
    Once you have been diagnosed with a TIA, your doctor will investigate to see what caused it. If you are diagnosed with a condition, such as heart disease or diabetes, it’s vital that you follow the treatment plan closely and work with your doctor to adapt the plan as needed. By treating the condition that put you at risk for TIAs, you lower that risk. Other treatments may include medications to keep clots from forming in the blood vessels, clot-busting drugs that dissolve clots in your blood system, or even surgery to remove blockages in your carotid artery.
8 Surprising Facts About Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

About The Author

Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN, has been writing health information for the past 20 years. She has extensive experience writing about health issues like sepsis, cancer, mental health issues, and women’s health. She is also author of the book Just the Right Dose: Your Smart Guide to Prescription Medications and How to Take Them Safely.
  1. (TIA) Transient Ischemic Attack. American Heart Association. https://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/AboutStroke/TypesofStroke/TIA/Transient-Ischemic-Attack-TIA_UCM_492003_SubHomePage.jsp
  2. Transient ischemic attack (TIA). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/transient-ischemic-attack/symptoms-causes/syc-20355679
  3. Transient Ischemic Attack. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1910519-overview
  4. Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) or Mini Stroke. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14173-transient-ischemic-attack-tia-or-mini-stroke
  5. Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). Cedars-Sinai. https://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Transient-Ischemic-Attack-TIA.aspx
  6. Panuganti KK, Dulebohn SC. Transient Ischemic Attack. [Updated 2018 Oct 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2018 Jan-. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459143/

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Last Review Date: 2021 Feb 6
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