Understanding a Transient Ischemic Attack

Understanding a Transient Ischemic Attack

A stroke — when blood stops flowing to your brain — is a life-threatening condition. A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is like a stroke but different in a few key ways.

Here, our team of board-certified specialists at Vascular Associates of San Diego discusses the symptoms and repercussions of a TIA so you know how to recognize it if it happens to you. 

The difference between a stroke and a TIA

A stroke and a TIA interrupt the blood flow to your brain, but a stroke lasts long enough to cause permanent cell and tissue damage, while a TIA only causes temporary effects.

The symptoms of a stroke and a TIA are similar:

These symptoms are typically short-lived, but they can lead to long-term problems depending on the part of your brain affected and the severity and length of the attack.

The two main types of stroke are ischemic (lack of blood flow) and hemorrhagic (bleeding). 

Temporary lack of blood flow is always the culprit behind TIAs — bleeding is never an issue. The effects are temporary or transient.

Bleeding is always the problem behind hemorrhagic strokes, and it doesn’t resolve before it causes damage.

If you have a damaged blood vessel, it may cause a TIA before it starts to bleed. However, if you have a bleeding blood vessel, it won’t cause a TIA but may cause a stroke.

Are you at risk for a TIA or stroke?

The risks for TIAs and stroke are the same:

You can prevent a TIA by addressing these health issues. If you have diabetes, heart disease, or clotting problems, managing your condition can lower your risk for a TIA. Exercise and a healthy diet can also do the trick by normalizing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. And it goes without saying that if you smoke — quit.

Men and people over 55 are more likely to suffer from a TIA, and your chances are even higher if you’re African American. TIAs tend to run in families, so if a close relative has had a TIA, you may be at risk, too. 

What causes a TIA?

We’ve mentioned that TIAs occur when blood temporarily stops flowing to your brain, but what blocks that flow? 

It could be a clot in one of your arteries that lead to your brain or a clot located somewhere else in your body that broke off and traveled to your brain.

TIAs also occur when your brain’s blood vessels narrow or become damaged.

What to do if you suspect a TIA

Most TIAs occur suddenly and last a short time — just a minute or two or up to two hours. Chances are, your symptoms will be long gone by the time you come to see us. That’s okay; we can still determine if you’ve had a TIA by running a few tests. In addition to talking to you about your overall health and your family’s medical history, we check for problems in your blood vessels by performing:

These are just a few specialized tests we use to diagnose and treat problems with your blood vessels. 

If we find a problem, we can treat you immediately. In some cases, a simple aspirin regimen does the trick by thinning your blood. 

But in other cases, more invasive treatment may be appropriate. For example, if you have a blocked artery in your neck, we can perform a carotid endarterectomy to remove plaque buildup in your carotid artery. 

Don’t ignore a TIA — it’s almost always a warning sign that a stroke is in your near future. Call 911 immediately or call us right away at 619-375-1781. You can also request an appointment using our online scheduling tool, but you should consider this an urgent matter. Our team is here to help you avoid a full-fledged stroke. 

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