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Transient ischaemic attack (TIA)

4-minute read

A transient ischaemic attack (TIA) is sometimes called a mini-stroke. It has similar symptoms to a stroke but it only lasts a few minutes and does not cause any permanent damage. If you have a TIA, it is a warning that you may have a stroke. It is very important to take steps to prevent a stroke.

If you suspect you are having a TIA, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance, even if your symptoms disappear and you start to feel better.

What is a TIA?

A TIA happens when the blood supply to your brain is temporarily blocked. This may happen because there is a build-up of fatty deposits in your blood vessels (known as atherosclerosis) leading to a reduced flow of blood to the brain, or because there is a blood clot.

When blood flow to the brain is blocked, the brain is starved of oxygen and nutrients. This causes cells to start dying and you experience symptoms. In a TIA, the blockage clears, the oxygen and nutrients return to the brain, and the symptoms go away.

If you have a stroke, the cells die and the brain is permanently damaged.

About 1 in 3 people who have a TIA will go on to have a stroke, sometimes within the next few hours. The biggest risk is in the first year after the TIA. If you receive treatment, your risk of stroke after a TIA can be greatly reduced.

You must not drive for 2 weeks after experiencing a TIA.

Symptoms of a TIA

The symptoms of a TIA are similar to those of a stroke. But, unlike a stroke, most of the symptoms will disappear within an hour if it is a TIA.

They include:

  • a severe, sudden headache
  • temporary loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • vision disturbances (double vision or not being able to see to the left or right)
  • speech disturbance (not being able to say what you're thinking, or using the wrong words)
  • slurred speech (the tongue might feel thick)
  • facial numbness or weakness
  • difficulty swallowing
  • weakness or paralysis of the face, arm or leg
  • vertigo (spinning sensation)
  • loss of balance
  • nausea and vomiting

F.A.S.T. test

The main symptoms of stroke can be remembered by using the word 'FAST':

  • Face – Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
  • Arms – Can they lift both arms?
  • Speech – Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
  • Time is critical – If you see any of these signs or suspect that you or someone else may be having a stroke, call triple zero (000) straight away and ask for an ambulance.

TIA diagnosis

To diagnose whether you have had a TIA, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and will order a series of tests including a brain scan. If it is a TIA, the brain scan will not show any signs of recent brain injury.

A series of other tests are used to diagnose why the TIA happened and the risk factors for a stroke. These may include imaging of the arteries with ultrasound, CT or MRI, a blood pressure check, heart tests and blood tests to assess risks.

TIA treatment

There is no treatment if you had a TIA, but you will need treatment to reduce your risk of having a stroke. This may include surgery to improve blood flow to the brain, or taking medicine to lower your blood pressure, lower your blood cholesterol, thin your blood to prevent clots, or control atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heart rhythm). You may need to take medicine for the rest of your life.

Reducing your risk of a stroke

Having a TIA is an opportunity to take action to reduce your risk of having a stroke.

  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, poultry and fish, and reduced-fat dairy.
  • Limit your intake of salt, sugar and saturated fats.
  • Do at least 30 minutes of regular physical activity every day.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Make sure your weight is healthy.
  • If you have diabetes, make sure it is under control.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.

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Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2020

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