Transient ischaemic attack (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: 05/11/2012

Next review due: 05/11/2014

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.

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.


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.

Page last reviewed: 03/10/2012

Next review due: 03/10/2014


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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

tommix said on 18 August 2014

Can one have aTIA whilst asleep?

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Sam88H said on 27 March 2014

My mother was referred to the A&E department of our local hospital after suffering a suspected mini stroke 3 days ago. It started out with numbness in her left hand and side of her face which soon faded. Two days later, the numbness was back in her hand, coming and going randomly. After a 3 hour wait in A&E we were seen, she had what appeared to be a more severe attack in front of me, including facial spasm but both legs had went heavy, with left sided weakness. She was admitted to the hospital, but all symptoms had faded and she was back to normal strength within 12 hours.

A CT scan was taken which was clear, along with a clear chest Xray. However a ultrasound scan on her neck showed plaque in her artery so follow up tests are being booked for tomorrow, including a MRI of her head and neck and a further scan with dye being injected to investigate further. The consultant has mentioned the possibility of surgery to clear the plaque. My mother has COPD, so I am rather worried about the prospect of surgery, however I'm unsure on the possibility of a purely medication treatment being given in the circumstances. Possibly a high dose statin with anticoagulant therapy to thin the blood would be a viable option?

If anyone has any informed views, or similar experiences it would be greatly appreciated if they could share as this is obviously new and scary to all involved.

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grahamgomeldon said on 26 June 2013

I lost my vision in one eye - there was no obvious cause.

I lost the vision in the left eye over a matter of seconds, but the right eye remained normal. I called NHS 111, and the operator asked me a series of computer-generated questions.

She then told me I should report to A&E at Bristol Royal Infirmary within the hour. I said that wasn't possible, as it was 50 miles away, and would take 75 to 90 minutes to drive. Wouldn't it make more sense to go to Salisbury, less than 15 miles away? I was told there was no A&E at Salisbury. If I couldn't make Bristol in time, I should make for Newport on the Isle of Wight. I explained the ferry terminal was very close to Southampton General Hospital - a much larger hospital than Newport. The operator said that she would have to recommend that I headed for Bristol.

I was fortunate to have someone to drive me, so I headed for Salisbury, the journey taking just over 20 minutes. My eyesight started to return while I was in the waiting room. I was seen by a specialist ophthalmologist, which was good.

If I had taken NHS 111 advice, and headed for Bristol, I would still have been on the road at the time I was examined at Salisbury.

I phoned up the next day, and told him about the advice I was given. He said he would get back to me, the next day - but that was yesterday, now, and nobody has phoned.

I see the TIA team at Salisbury tomorrow.

There appear to be issues with NHS 111. My experiences were not reassuring.

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AsclepiusGodofHealing said on 25 March 2013

I had a TIA ,lost my vision (after bending down) for a minute and had double vision for an hour.I called 111 and as I was on my own I couldn't see the telephone number pad to key in other than 111 (top left on the phone).They took me through an online survey which seemed pointless and then told me to take myself to Hospital within an hour. I told them I couldn't see to drive ,nor had anyone to take me, they told me to phone for a taxi, hmm I couldn't see the phone.They could have put me through to 999 but didn't .Given I live in a rural location and could not see the phone I waited for an hour for my eyes to clear ,phoned a neighbour and got a lift to hospital...time from TIA to walking into casuality 2.5 not fast. Advice: Note where the 9 number is on your telephone and dial 999 not 111

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