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Manage your risk

What to do about a TIA or mini-stroke - part 1

What to do about a TIA or mini-stroke - part 2


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Transient ischemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke)

TIA, also known as a mini-stroke, is a medical emergency. Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number to ensure you get help quickly. If you have had a TIA, your risk of having a stroke is much higher.  It happens when a clot stops blood from flowing to the brain for a short time.

TIA symptoms

The symptoms of TIA are almost the same as those of a stroke, however, the symptoms go away within a few minutes or hours. Having a TIA is an important warning sign of stroke. It tells you that you have a higher risk of having a stroke and also gives you a chance to prevent a stroke. Know the stroke warning signs – it could save a life.

TIA is an emergency

A TIA is a very serious warning sign that says something is wrong with blood flow to your brain and that you are at higher risk for having a stroke immediately after the TIA, up to one year later. The good news about TIA is it provides a warning about your higher risk and gives you a chance to take action to reduce your risk.

Doctors may be able to give you a clot-busting drug that restore blood flow to your brain. However, because the drug is only effective within the first three hours of the onset of symptoms, you must get to the hospital as soon as possible. Do not wait for your symptoms to disappear - call 9-1-1 as quickly as possible. Even if your symptoms do go away, it is important for you to find out what is causing these symptoms.


What causes a TIA?

The most common cause of a TIA is a blood clot or plaque that prevents blood from flowing to your brain. Here’s how it happens:

TIA caused by plaque:
  • Plaque refers to a build-up of cholesterol, fatty deposits and other substances. It gathers inside the wall of an artery and narrows the size of the blood vessel (also called atherosclerosis).
  • This may reduce blood flow to the brain. Plaque can also break off and block arteries to the brain.
TIA caused by a blood clot:
  • This may reduce blood flow to the brain. Plaque can also break off and block arteries to the brain. A blood clot may form in other parts of the body and travel to the brain. Many blood clots travel from the heart to the artery that feeds the brain.
  • If you have atrial fibrillation (a fast, irregular heart rate), problems with your heart valves, a patent foramen ovale (a defect in the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart), or a weak heart muscle, you may be at higher risk for a TIA.

You may have other health problems that can cause a TIA. Talk to your healthcare provider about your health and whether you are at higher risk for TIA.


Prevent another TIA

The goal of treatment is to prevent you from having another TIA or a stroke. The way to reach this goal is to reduce your risk factors. While some risk factors are beyond your control, you can manage other risk factors by leading a healthy lifestyle, taking prescribed medications or having surgery.

Risk factors you can do something about

Risk factors you cannot control

TIA treatment

It is sometimes difficult for doctors to know if you have had a TIA because the symptoms have usually gone away by the time the doctor sees you.

The key to treating a TIA is knowing the warning signs that a TIA has happened. Your doctor may want to perform tests to find out the cause of the TIA. Once the cause is known, you and your healthcare team can work on a plan to prevent future TIAs or strokes. Read more about diagnostic tests.


Doctors may prescribe two main types of medication to treat TIAs -antiplatelets or anticoagulants (blood thinners). They prevent or destroy blood clots and can lower the risk of stroke in people who have had TIAs or previous strokes.

  • Your doctor may also prescribe medication to control your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol. Read more about medications.

When you have been prescribed medication, you must:

  • Take the medication as directed.
  • Report any side effects to your healthcare team right away.
  • Only stop taking the medication after you have talked to your healthcare team.
  • Bring your medication with you in the original bottle each time you visit the clinic or doctor’s office.

If you have any questions about your medication, talk to your healthcare team. Learn more about recommendations for optimal treatment for stroke patients.



  • Sometimes surgery is the best way to prevent a stroke. Your doctor will tell you if this is the right treatment for you.Read more about surgery and other procedures.


Last reviewed August 2009.

Last modified June 2013.