Is It A Stroke or A TIA?

Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.

A ministroke is a term sometimes used to refer to what is medically called a transient ischemic attack or TIA. Ischemic means there is not enough oxygen being delivered to a tissue.

A transient ischemic attack occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, temporarily limiting the oxygen supply to the brain. A TIA is essentially a brief stroke with symptoms that appear and then disappear on their own, usually within minutes.

The signs and symptoms of a TIA occur suddenly and are the same as those with an acute stroke:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body. This loss of voluntary movement or sensation may be complete or partial. There may also be tingling in the affected area.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding. Sometimes weakness in the muscles of the face can cause drooling.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

In contrast to a true stroke, a TIA leaves no permanent neurological damage after the signs and symptoms spontaneously resolve.

TIAs are also sometimes called "warning strokes" since they are warning signs that a person is at risk for a more serious, true stroke. In fact, about a third of people who have TIAs eventually have a serious stroke. About half of these strokes strike within a year of the TIA.

A person who has had a TIA can take steps to reduce their risk of having a stroke. Drug therapy, particularly with aspirin, can help prevent a stroke. (Aspirin is a potent antiplatelet agent and helps keep blood from clotting.) Lifestyle changes (maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, stopping smoking, reducing excessive alcohol consumption) can also reduce the risk of a stroke.

It is important to remember that the symptoms of a TIA and a stroke are the same, so if you experience these symptoms, there is no way to tell if you are having a TIA or a stroke. A stroke is always a medical emergency. Prompt recognition and treatment reduces the risk of death from a stroke and the degree of neurological impairment and disability.

Never wait to see if the symptoms of stroke will go away. Anyone with symptoms of a stroke should receive immediate, emergency medical attention.


Last Editorial Review: 6/15/2005