Introduction 

A transient ischaemic attack (TIA) or "mini stroke" is caused by a temporary disruption in the blood supply to part of the brain.

The disruption in blood supply results in a lack of oxygen to the brain. This can cause symptoms similar to those of a stroke, such as speech and visual disturbance and numbness or weakness in the arms and legs.

However, a TIA does not last as long as a stroke. The effects only last for a few minutes and are usually fully resolved within 24 hours.

F.A.S.T.

The main signs and symptoms of a TIA can be identified by remembering the word F.A.S.T., which stands for Face-Arms-Speech-Time.

  • Face – the face may have fallen on one side, the person may be unable to smile, or their mouth or eye may have dropped
  • Arms – the person may not be able to raise both their arms and keep them there due to weakness or numbness in their arms
  • Speech – the person may have slurred speech
  • Time – if any of these signs or symptoms are present, it is time to dial 999 immediately

If the above signs and symptoms last longer than 24 hours, it is regarded as a full stroke.

It is important that a person who has a TIA is checked and treated as soon as possible to minimise the risk of having a further TIA or a full stroke. With treatment, the risk of a further TIA or full stroke can be greatly reduced.

Read more about how to recognise the signs and symptoms of a TIA.

What causes a TIA?

During a TIA, one of the small blood vessels that supply your brain with oxygen-rich blood becomes blocked.

Atherosclerosis is a common cause of narrowed arteries. It occurs when fatty deposits, known as plaques, develop on the inner lining of your blood vessels. This can cause your blood vessels to become thickened, hard and less elastic, making it more difficult for blood to flow through them.

A TIA can also occur as a result of a blood clot that forms in a blood vessel and blocks the blood supply to your brain.

In rare cases, a TIA can be caused by a small amount of bleeding in the brain, known as a haemorrhage.

Read more about the causes of TIA.

Diagnosing a TIA

As TIAs are often over quickly, you may not have any symptoms by the time you see a healthcare professional.

You will be asked in detail about the symptoms you experienced during the TIA. For example, how long they lasted and how they affected you. This will help rule out other conditions.

If a TIA is suspected, you should be referred within seven days of the TIA to a specialist for tests.

Read more about diagnosing a TIA.

Treating a TIA

Following a TIA, you will need treatment to help prevent another TIA or a full stroke.

Your treatment will depend on your individual circumstances, such as your age and medical history.Your healthcare team will discuss the treatment options with you, and tell you about  possible benefits and risks.

You may be given medication or asked to make changes to your lifestyle (see the prevention advice below). In some cases, surgery may be needed.

Read more about how TIAs are treated.

Preventing a TIA

TIAs often occur without warning. If you have a TIA, it is a sign another one may follow and further TIAs can have more serious effects or develop into a full, life-threatening stroke.

Regardless of whether or not you have had a TIA or stroke in the past, there are a number of ways you can lower your risk of having either in the future. These include:

Read more about how lifestyle factors can help prevent a TIA.

Transient ischaemic attack (TIA)

In this video, a consultant stroke physician explains what causes TIA and how to spot the symptoms. Also find out how Sally coped when she had multiple TIAs.

Media last reviewed: 17/11/2014

Next review due: 17/11/2016

Who is affected by TIAs?

It is difficult to know exactly how common TIAs are because many people who have the signs and symptoms of a TIA do not seek medical help.

Each year in the UK, it is estimated that around 65,000 people have a TIA for the first time.

During the first few hours, it's not possible to tell whether a person is having a TIA or a stroke. Therefore, the signs and symptoms should always be treated as a medical emergency and you should seek immediate medical help.

Page last reviewed: 03/10/2012

Next review due: 03/10/2014