Stroke

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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Quick GuideUnderstanding Stroke Symptoms, Signs, Treatment

Understanding Stroke Symptoms, Signs, Treatment

What is a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?

A transient ischemic attack (TIA, mini-stroke) is a short-lived stroke that gets better and resolves spontaneously. It is a short-lived episode (less than 24 hours) of temporary impairment of brain function that is caused by a loss of blood supply. A TIA causes a loss of function in the area of the body that is controlled by the portion of the brain affected. The loss of blood supply to the brain is most often caused by a clot that spontaneously forms in a blood vessel within the brain (thrombosis). However, it can also result from a clot that forms elsewhere in the body, dislodges from that location, and travels to lodge in an artery of the brain (emboli). Arterial spasm and, rarely, a bleed into brain tissue are other causes of a TIA. Many people refer to a TIA as a "mini-stroke."

Some TIAs develop slowly, while others develop rapidly. By definition, all TIAs resolve within 24 hours. Strokes take longer to resolve than TIAs, and with strokes, complete function may never return and reflect a more permanent and serious problem. Although most TIAs often last only a few minutes, all TIAs should be evaluated with the same urgency as a stroke in an effort to prevent recurrences and/or strokes. TIAs can occur once, multiple times, or precede a permanent stroke. A transient ischemic attack should be considered an emergency because there is no guarantee that the situation will resolve itself and function will return spontaneously without the help of medical intervention.

A TIA from a clot in the blood vessel that supplies the retina of the eye can cause temporary visual loss (amaurosis fugax), which is often described as the sensation of a black, dark curtain coming down. A TIA that involves the carotid artery (the largest blood vessel supplying the brain) can produce problems with movement or sensation on one side of the body, which is the side opposite to the actual blockage. An affected patient may experience temporary double vision ; dizziness (vertigo); loss of balance; one-sided weakness or complete paralysis of the arm, leg, face or one whole side of the body; or be unable to speak or understand commands.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/18/2016

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