Transient ischemic attack (TIA) is also known as a mini stroke, because the symptoms are similar to the stroke symptoms but do not last for a long time. A TIA attack occurs when the blood flow is disrupted to a part of the brain, which is caused due to blood clot. After some time, the flow of blood starts again and the symptoms disappear. However, with a stroke, the blood flow to the brain is permanently blocked.

A TIA is a warning which means one is at the risk of having a stroke in the near future. If one has the slightest doubt about having a TIA, it is better to take medical help as early as possible. Early medical intervention can help in preventing a stroke. In other cases, where one has experienced it but the symptoms have disappeared, one would still need to take medical help without wasting any time.

The most common cause of transient ischemic attack is a blood clot in the brain. Blood clots are caused due to hardening of arteries (atherosclerosis), abnormal heart rhythms, or heart attacks. The brain cells get affected within a short time due to the blockage. The blood flow returns to normal when the clot in the brain dissolves. The symptoms of TIA do not last for a long time. In rare cases, it is caused due to a sharp drop in blood pressure which reduces blood flow to the brain.

The symptoms of manifest suddenly and are always temporary. The symptoms usually disappear within 10 to 20 minutes. TIA symptoms are precisely like stroke symptoms. The symptoms differ from each other, depending on which part of the brain is affected. The common symptoms are as follows:
  • Weakness on one side of the body or unable to move a part or the whole body, such as the arm, face, or leg.
  • Neurologic deficits can be seen on one side of the body, which also affects the movement and sensory abilities of that part of the body.
  • Vision can be affected resulting into blurring, double vision, and dimness.
  • Problem in speaking and finding words.
  • Difficulty in grasping words.
  • Unsteadiness, dizziness, vertigo, clumsiness, staggering, or fainting. One may find it difficult to walk or may have a drop attack, which is a sudden loss of strength in legs.
It is very difficult to diagnose TIAs because the symptoms and signs may have disappeared before one reaches the hospital. Secondly, it does not show changes on CT and MRI scans. The diagnosis can be made with the help of a person's medical history and physical examination. Tests which will diagnose a TIA may include:
  • Blood clotting tests, including PT which will help in ruling out a blood disorder
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Carotid duplex (ultrasound)
  • Cerebral arteriogram
  • Echocardiogram
  • Head CT scan and cranial MRI
Additional procedures and tests may include:
  • Blood chemistry
  • Blood glucose
  • Chest X-ray
  • ECG
  • ESR (sedimentation rate)
  • Tests for syphilis
  • Serum lipids
The doctor will conduct this test to check high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, and peripheral vascular disease.

The main goal of the treatment is to improve the blood supply to the brain and to take steps for the prevention of a stroke in the future. If one happens to have a TIA within a time frame of 48 hours, one would need to be admitted to the hospital so that the doctors can find the real cause and treatment.

Disorders like high blood pressure, blood disorders, heart disease, and diabetes should be investigated and treated appropriately. Medications like aspirin may be prescribed to reduce blood clotting. Other medications include dipyridamole, clopidogrel, aggrenox, or heparin. Treatment can be extended for an indefinite period of time. People having clogged neck arteries may be advised to go for a surgery (carotid endarterectomy). Generally, doctors recommend a low-fat and low-salt diet and other dietary changes as a treatment for transient ischemic attack.

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.