Neurology and Neurosurgery

Don’t ignore a transient ischemic attack, a warning sign of stroke

Neurologist Dr. Paul Wright examines a patient after she had a transient ischemic attack, also called a ministroke


Transient ischemic attack or ministroke causes temporary stroke symptoms


By Paul Wright, MD, Senior Vice President and System Chair of the Neuroscience Institute, Nuvance Health


You probably have heard of a stroke. But you might not have heard of a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA is also called a ministroke. Many people ignore TIA symptoms because they are temporary. But it is important to know what a TIA is, recognize the symptoms and get medical help immediately. A ministroke can be a warning that a full-blown stroke might happen in the future.


Learn more about stroke services at the Nuvance Health Neuroscience Institute.


What is a transient ischemic attack or ministroke?


A TIA is a brief period when there is not enough blood flowing to your brain. TIA is called a ministroke because it usually only lasts a few minutes. Symptoms usually go away within an hour but can linger for 24 hours.


Inside our brains, there are tiny vessels that carry blood and oxygen. During an ischemic stroke, these vessels get blocked by pieces of debris, such as a blood clot or plaque from coronary artery disease. This type of stroke is called a brain attack because it is like when blood stops flowing to the heart and causes a heart attack.


Like plants need sunlight and water to grow, your brain needs oxygen-rich blood to function. During a TIA, your brain will temporarily not function correctly because it is deprived of these nutrients. Depending on the area of your brain not getting blood and oxygen, you may have trouble speaking, talking or moving one side of your body.


Related content: Top 4 things you need to know about stroke


What are the warning signs of a transient ischemic attack?


TIA symptoms are the same as a full-on stroke they just don’t last as long.


Use the acronyms B.E.F.A.S.T. to remember stroke symptoms:

  • B – Balance: Loss of balance or coordination, dizziness
  • E – Eyes: Trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
  • F – Face: Facial weakness, uneven smile
  • A – Arm: Unable to lift both arms evenly, numbness, weakness
  • S – Speech: Difficulty speaking, slurred speech
  • T – Time: Call 9-1-1


Watch this video to learn more about B.E.F.A.S.T.


If you or someone near you are experiencing stroke symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately. Even if symptoms go away within minutes, it is better to be safe than sorry, and worth a trip to the emergency department.


Is a transient ischemic attack life threatening?


While a TIA itself is usually not life threatening, it is a medical emergency because of what it means.


A TIA is a warning sign that something is not right with your brain’s blood supply. To determine why you had a ministroke, your care team will ask questions about your stroke risk and perform tests, including:

  • Your medical history to see if you have conditions that could affect your blood vessels, such as atrial fibrillation, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Your lifestyle and habits that increase your risk for stroke, including not exercising, smoking and drinking too much alcohol.
  • Imaging of the blood vessels in your head, neck and vascular system, including a CT scan, MRI and angiography.


Ideally, your care team will pinpoint the problem and treat it before it causes a big stroke. Stroke prevention is critical because this neurological condition is a leading cause of disability and death in the United States.


What to expect after a transient ischemic attack


Depending on what caused the TIA, you may have follow-up care with your primary care provider or a specialist. For example, your primary care provider can help you follow a healthy diet, exercise and quit smoking. A cardiologist can help you manage heart-related risk factors for stroke, and an endocrinologist can help you manage diabetes.


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A ministroke usually does not cause permanent side effects. However, depending on the area of the brain affected, your age and overall health, you may need rehabilitation to recover fully after a TIA.


Related content: Rehabilitation from a stroke, your questions answered


The bottom line: A transient ischemic attack or ministroke causes temporary stroke symptoms. It is important to get emergency medical care if you are experiencing stroke symptoms, even if they go away within minutes. A TIA is usually a warning sign that you might have a major stroke. Your care team will assess your stroke risk and help you take steps to reduce the chances of having a stroke. Know the signs of stroke, take action and live on.