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Transient ischaemic attack (TIA)

8-minute read

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.

Key facts

  • A transient ischaemic attack (TIA) happens when the blood supply to your brain is temporarily blocked.
  • Your symptoms will vary depending on which part of the brain is affected.
  • You may experience visual disturbances, speech disturbances, weakness on one side of your body or dizziness, nausea, and vomiting, usually lasting less than an hour.
  • You should never ignore TIA symptoms. You have a high risk of having a stroke in the hours and days after a TIA, even if your symptoms go away.
  • If you've had a TIA, talk to your doctor about treatment to reduce your risk of having a stroke in future.

What is a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)?

A transient ischaemic attack (TIA) happens when the blood supply to your brain is temporarily blocked. This may happen because of a build-up of fatty deposits in your blood vessels (known as atherosclerosis) that leads to a temporarily reduced flow of blood to your brain. It can also be caused by a blood clot that causes a temporary blockage.

When blood flow to the brain is blocked, the brain doesn't get enough oxygen and nutrients. If this happens, your brain cells may start dying, causing symptoms.

A TIA is similar to a stroke, but with some important differences. If you have a stroke, the blockage stays in place and brain cells die, which causes permanent damage to your brain. In a TIA, the blockage clears, so oxygen and nutrients can return to the brain, and your symptoms resolve.

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

What are the symptoms of a TIA?

The symptoms of a TIA are similar to those of a stroke. But, unlike a stroke, most of your symptoms will usually disappear within an hour.

Your symptoms will depend on which part of your brain is affected. They may include:

  • vision disturbances, such as:
    • temporary loss of vision in one or both eyes, like a black curtain coming down or up
    • double vision
    • not being able to see to the left or right
  • speech disturbances such as:
    • not being able to say what you're thinking, or using the wrong words
    • slurred speech (your tongue might feel thick)
  • facial numbness or weakness
  • difficulty swallowing
  • weakness, paralysis or tingling affecting one side of your face and sometimes also affecting your arm or leg on the same side
  • vertigo (spinning sensation) or loss of balance, together with nausea and vomiting

Never ignore symptoms of a TIA. Stroke risk is highest in the hours and days after a TIA, even if your symptoms resolve. Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance, even if your symptoms disappear.

What is the F.A.S.T test?

If you think you are having a stroke, use the 'F.A.S.T.' test to check for symptoms.

  • Face — Check your face. Is your face drooping on one side?
  • Arms — Can you lift both arms?
  • Speech — Is your speech slurred? Do other people 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.

How will I be diagnosed with a TIA?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and may order a series of tests including a brain scan. If you've had a TIA, the brain scan may not show any signs of recent brain injury.

Your doctor may refer you for other tests to identify why the TIA happened and look for risk factors for stroke. These may include:

How will my TIA be treated?

If you've had a TIA, your doctor will discuss treatments to reduce your risk of having a stroke in future.

Your doctor may prescribe blood thinners (antiplatelet drugs or anticoagulant drugs) to lower your risk of blood clots.

Your doctor will assess your risk of stroke. They may also suggest lifestyle measures and/or medicines to reduce some of these risks. They may prescribe medicines to control your blood pressure, lower your blood cholesterol and/or to control diabetes.

If tests show that you have severe narrowing of the carotid arteries in your neck (carotid stenosis), your doctor might recommend surgery to improve the blood supply to your brain.

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

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What can I do to reduce my risk of a stroke?

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

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a healthy dietwith 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.
  • Keep physically active.
  • If you smoke, cut down or quit.
  • If you have diabetes, make sure it is under control.
  • Drink alcoholonly in moderation.

NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT? — Use the BMI Calculator to find out if your weight and waist size are in a healthy range.

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Last reviewed: August 2022

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