Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA, Mini-Stroke) - Causes

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What are the causes of transient ischemic attack (TIA)?

Loss of blood supply to portions of the brain can occur for a variety of reasons. A blood vessel can become blocked, and blood supply to a part of the brain is lost, or a blood vessel can leak blood into the brain (brain hemorrhage). Most commonly however, the blood vessel is blocked. The blockage can be caused by a blood clot that forms in the blood vessel (thrombosis) or it can be caused by a clot or debris that floats downstream (embolus).

Blocked blood vessels

Fatty plaque formation in the blood vessel wall is called atherosclerosis or "hardening of the arteries." Plaque can rupture and cause a small blood clot to form and occlude the blood vessel. Blockage can also occur when debris from narrowing of a carotid artery breaks off, and floats downstream to cause the occlusion. Sometimes, in people with an irregular heart beat called atrial fibrillation, small blood clots can be formed within the heart and travel to the brain to cause the obstruction.

Picture of Carotid Artery Disease and Plaque Buildup
Picture of Carotid Artery Disease and Plaque Buildup

Picture of Carotid Artery Disease and Plaque Buildup

Brain hemorrhage or bleeding in the brain can be due to an aneurysm, a weak spot in a blood vessel that ruptures and spills blood into the brain tissue, or it may be due to spontaneous bleeding caused by poorly controlled hypertension (high blood pressure). Such bleeding more commonly results in the irreversible damage of a stroke, as opposed to a TIA.

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Comment from: soccermom, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: March 14

I fell and hit my head on the ice in December. I had a concussion from that. I started having blurred vision, numbness in my face and left arm, and passed out in February. I had a couple of more occurrences, but have not passed out again. I finally went to the doctor and they have diagnosed it as transient ischemic attack (TIA). I wonder if that could be from the concussion.

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Comment from: Orthodox Mom, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: April 11

My transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) were caused by a hole in my heart. I had approximately 11 cerebellar TIAs over the course of 1 hour. An MRI showed that I also had evidence of 2 older TIAs in my brain. I meet none of the criteria for stroke. I am not overweight, diabetic or hypertensive, and I exercise regularly. A bubble study of my heart revealed an atrial septal defect (ASD) which allowed small clots to pass through the chambers of the heart and travel to my brain - thus causing the strokes. After a transcatheter procedure to close the hole, I am doing well. No further TIAs.

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