Transient ischaemic attack (TIA)

A TIA is the same as a stroke, but the symptoms last a short time. You get stroke symptoms because a clot is blocking the blood supply in your brain. When the clot moves away, the stroke symptoms stop.

Why is it urgent?

Having a TIA is a warning that you are at risk of having a stroke. The risk is greatest in the first days and weeks after a TIA.

Why did it happen?

Clots in the brain can happen for different reasons, and doctors treat you to reduce the risk of another clot happening. Doctors also look for risk factors like high blood pressure or smoking. They will give you the treatment and advice you need.

Will I have a stroke?

It’s difficult to tell for sure if someone is going to have a stroke after a TIA. But having a TIA is a major sign that you have a much higher than normal risk of having a stroke. That’s why doctors work so hard to find out what caused it and help you improve your health. And by following treatments and making healthy lifestyle changes, you can actively reduce your risk of a stroke.

Spot the signs of a TIA

A TIA has the same main symptoms as a stroke. Use the FAST test:

FAST test
Image of the FAST test

There are other common signs of TIA and stroke. They include:

  • Sudden weakness on one side in your arms, hands or legs.

  • Sudden blurred vision or loss of sight in one or both eyes.

  • Sudden memory loss or confusion.

  • Dizziness or a sudden fall.

A TIA is a medical emergency, the same as a stroke. If you spot the signs of a TIA or stroke, call 999. Don’t wait to see if the symptoms pass.

If you didn’t get medical help right away, get an urgent appointment with your GP or go to an NHS urgent treatment centre. You need to get your symptoms checked as soon as possible.

What happens next?

If you call 999 with stroke symptoms, you should be taken to the hospital. If you go to your GP after TIA symptoms, they can refer you to a hospital for an assessment. If a TIA is suspected, you will be given aspirin to reduce the risk of a stroke.

Seeing a specialist

A GP or paramedic will ask you about what happened. If they think you may have had a TIA, they will arrange for you to see a specialist doctor or nurse within 24 hours of your symptoms. Your appointment with a specialist might be at a TIA clinic, or in a hospital stroke unit. If a TIA is confirmed, doctors will try to find out how it happened. You will be given treatment and advice to reduce your risk of having a stroke in future.

How TIA is diagnosed

The most important information for confirming a TIA is your story about the symptoms and when they happened. Symptoms can be caused by other problems, so the specialist doctor or nurse will listen carefully to you and confirm if you have had a TIA. You may have a brain scan, but not everyone needs a scan.

You will have tests for health problems linked to stroke, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. You might have heart monitoring to check for heart conditions. You might have an ultrasound scan to check for blocked arteries in your neck.

Why didn’t I have a brain scan?

A TIA is a temporary clot in your brain, so it doesn’t always cause damage that would show up on a scan.

If doctors are not sure what caused your symptoms, you may have a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI). This can rule out other causes of the symptoms, such as bleeds or abnormalities in the brain. An MRI can sometimes show the site of the TIA, especially if it’s done soon after it happens. But this is not the main way that a TIA is diagnosed.

How does a TIA happen?

Clots that cause a TIA can happen for different reasons. One type of clot is caused by a build-up of fatty deposits in the blood vessels around your body, known as atherosclerosis. Another type of clot is due to heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heartbeat). This can lead to a clot forming in the heart and travelling to the brain.

Damage to the arteries in the neck, known as arterial dissection, can also cause clots. Small vessel disease is a condition where the tiny blood vessels deep inside your brain get blocked. This can also lead to clots forming and causing a TIA or stroke.

Information

Other resources

Stroke Association
Helpline: 0303 3033 100
Email: helpline@stroke.org.uk
Contact us for information about stroke, emotional support and details of local services and support groups.

AF Association
Provides information and support for people with atrial fibrillation.

Blood Pressure UK
Tel: 020 7882 6218
Email: help@bloodpressureuk.org
Help and information about reducing and managing high blood pressure.

British Heart Foundation
Heart Helpline: 0300 330 3311
Helpline run by cardiac nurses, plus information and advice on all aspects of heart health.

Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland
Helpline: 0808 801 0899
Advice line staffed by nurses, and information and practical support for people with stroke and TIA living in Scotland.

Diabetes UK
Careline: 0345 123 2399
Information and support for living well with diabetes.

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) Drivers
Medical Group (England, Scotland, Wales)

Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) (Northern Ireland)
Where to find information on driving after TIA and stroke in England, Scotland and Wales (DVLA) and Northern Ireland (DVA)

Heart UK
Helpline: 0345 450 5988
Email: ask@heartuk.org.uk
Specialist cholesterol charity, with a helpline run by specialist nurses and dietitians and advice in Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi on Tuesdays.

NHS Smokefree
Use an app, get information or find local support for quitting smoking.

Disclaimer: The Stroke Association provides the details of other organisations for information only. Inclusion on My Stroke Guide does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement.