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 sudden symptoms similar to those of a stroke, such as speech and visual disturbance, and numbness or weakness in the face, arms and legs.

However, a TIA does not last as long as a stroke. The effects often only last for a few minutes or hours and fully resolve within 24 hours.

Signs and symptoms

The main symptoms of a TIA can be remembered with the word FAST: Face-Arms-Speech-Time.

  • Face the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have dropped.
  • Arms the person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of arm weakness or numbness in one arm.
  • Speech their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all, despite appearing to be awake.
  • Time it is time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.

Read more about the symptoms of a TIA.

Seeking medical advice

In the early stages of a TIA, it's not possible to tell whether you are having a TIA or a full stroke, so it's important to phone 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Even if the symptoms disappear while you are waiting for the ambulance to arrive, an assessment in hospital should still be carried out.

A TIA is a warning that you are at risk of having a full stroke in the near future, and an assessment can help doctors to determine the best way to reduce the chances of this happening.

If you think you may have had a TIA previously, but the symptoms have since passed and you didn't seek medical advice at the time, you should make an urgent appointment with your GP so they can determine whether to refer you for a hospital assessment.

Read more about diagnosing a TIA.

What causes TIAs?

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

This blockage is usually caused by a blood clot that has formed elsewhere in your body and travelled to the blood vessels supplying the brain, although it can also be caused by pieces of fatty material or air bubbles.

Certain things can increase your chances of having a TIA, including:

People over 60 years of age, and people of Asian, African or Caribbean descent are also at a higher risk of having a TIA.

Read more about the causes of TIA.

How TIAs are treated

Although the symptoms of a TIA resolve in a few minutes or hours, you will need treatment to help prevent another TIA or a full stroke happening in the future.

Your treatment will depend on your individual circumstances, such as your age and medical history.

You are likely to be given advice about lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your stroke risk (see below), in addition to being offered medication to treat the underlying cause of your TIA.

In some cases, surgery may be needed to unblock the carotid arteries (the main blood vessels that supply the brain with blood).

Read more about treating a TIA.

Preventing TIAs

A TIA is often a sign that another one may follow and you are at a high risk of having a full, life-threatening stroke in the near future.

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 to prevent a TIA.

Page last reviewed: 15/10/2014

Next review due: 15/10/2016