TIA stroke
TIA stroke

Don’t Dismiss Symptoms Of A Transient Ischemic Attack. It Could Be A Warning For Something More Serious

Posted on October 24, 2023 by Henry Ford Health Staff
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By now, most people understand the importance of calling 911 and seeking medical attention when someone is having symptoms of a stroke. But if those symptoms suddenly go away and it seems to be a false alarm, that shouldn’t be a reason to not seek help as well. That is often the case, however, when patients experience a transient ischemic attack (TIA).

According to Daniel Miller, M.D., a neurologist at Henry Ford Health, TIA in simple terms is a sort of temporary stroke. Although not as common as a stroke, TIA affects as many as 250,000 people in the US every year.

“TIA and stroke are both caused by a blockage or lack of blood flow to a portion of the brain,” says Dr. Miller. “Symptoms of TIA and stroke are also the same, and they are both diagnosed using the FAST acronym – (Face drooping, Arm weakness, slurred Speech, Time to call 911). The biggest difference with TIA is that the blockage is short term. As sufficient blood flow is restored to the brain, your symptoms will go away.”

Even as blood flow to the brain is restored and you begin feel normal again, it should still be considered a serious event and requires thorough evaluation. In fact, research shows that one in five patients who have had a TIA will have a larger, more serious stroke within one year. Here, Dr. Miller breaks down TIA and how you can improve your odds after the fact.

Understanding TIA And Stroke

The only way to properly know if you have had a TIA is for it to be clinically diagnosed. Your doctor will use CT or MRI scans of the head to rule out stroke or other complications as a possible cause.

“Sometimes diagnosing TIA can be difficult because symptoms are so similar to those of other neurological disorders,” says Dr. Miller. “Since they don’t cause permanent damage to the brain the way a stroke does, a definitive diagnosis is not always possible.”

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The easiest way to diagnose TIA is by identifying that stroke symptoms have developed and then have subsequently resolved – all the more reason to make sure you get to a hospital as soon as possible at the first sign of symptoms.

The risk factors for TIA are also similar to those of stroke including:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking or using tobacco products
  • Obesity
  • Having heart conditions such as cardiovascular disease or atrial fibrillation (AFib)

What TIA Means For Your Future Stroke Risk

“We consider TIA as a warning sign,” says Dr. Miller. “Since your chances of having a stroke are elevated after TIA, it is important to do what you can to minimize your risk.”

Not sure where to begin? Dr. Miller offers this advice:

  • Clean up your diet. The food choices you make can contribute to your risk of high blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity – all factors that can raise your stroke risk. Fortunately, it is also one of the easiest risk factors to modify. Start by making healthy food swaps every day. Focus your diet more on eating whole foods – while paying attention to how much fat, sodium and sugar you are consuming. You might consider meeting with a dietitian to learn how to make smart choices.
  • Stop smoking. Quitting often isn’t easy, but it plays a huge role in your risk for stroke as well as many other health complications including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
  • Take your medications. If you have been prescribed medications to help you control your blood pressure or cholesterol levels, make sure you take those as directed by your doctor. Always consult your doctor first before starting or stopping any medications.
  • See your doctor regularly. Work with your doctor to set up a cadence for monitoring your stroke risk after TIA. Use these appointments to check in on your progress at modifying your risk factors and discuss your options for continued stroke prevention.
  • Address other medical risk factors. When diagnosing TIA, your doctor may be able to also use your scans to identify areas where there is narrowing of your blood vessels or the risk of a possible blockage due to a blood clot. In this case, your doctor may recommend medications to help reduce your stroke risk. In some instances, surgical or catheter-based procedures can be used to clear blockages before a stroke can happen.

While your risk for a stroke may decreases over time, after you’ve had TIA it may take years before that risk returns to normal. “There is no definitive way to prevent all stroke or TIA cases,” says Dr. Miller. “You can certainly make an impact by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and addressing any risk factors with the help of your doctor.”

In any case, if someone has developed stroke-like symptoms (even if they eventually go away), consider it a medical emergency. Getting medical support after a TIA or stoke will give you the best chance at preventing another event in your future.


Reviewed by Dr. Daniel Miller, a neurologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

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