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A Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is a phenomenon caused by a temporary disruption in the blood supply to part of the brain. Unlike a stroke, the circulatory blockage is brief and there is no brain tissue death (i.e. permanent damage) as the blockage breaks away and dissolves.
A TIA is similar to a stroke and results in stroke-like symptoms but these tend to last for only a few minutes or 1-2 hours before fully resolving within 24 hours.
In the days following a TIA, the risk of a stroke increases dramatically; in fact, a third of the people with TIA later have recurrent TIAs and a third have a stroke in the future. Fortunately, one may also consider the occurrence of a TIA as an opportunity to find a cause or minimize the risk to prevent a possible stroke.
A TIA is characterized by a disrupted blood supply to a region of the brain which very commonly results due to blood clots. These can form in the arteries of the brain (thrombosis) usually following the gradual narrowing of the blood vessel by plaque (a fatty build up) in a process called atherosclerosis. A blood clot can form if the plaque ruptures, leading to further blockage of the artery.
If a person is suffering from atrial fibrillation, blood clots may float downstream from the heart and get caught in small blood vessels (embolus). Atrial fibrillation is characterized by an uncoordinated heart beat which allows blood to become stagnant and form small clots that can embolize to any organ in the body, such as the brain.
Due to the complexity of structure and function of the brain, the resulting deficits are grouped based on the anatomy of the brain.
Following a TIA, common tests may be done which include:
Importantly, while a head CT scan or brain MRI will almost always be ordered, a stroke may show changes where a TIA will not.