What is a Transient Ischemic Attack?

Transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a term used to describe temporary stroke-like symptoms. TIA is a medical emergency that signals a high risk of impending stroke. Patients often do not recognize the symptoms of TIA, but it is imperative that regardless of the duration or severity, symptoms of TIA should be treated in the same manner as acute ischemic stroke. The risk of stroke is highest within the first 48 hours of a TIA; an emergency department is most efficient in identifying those at highest risk for stroke.

Causes of TIA

Both a TIA and a stroke are caused by an interruption in the flow of blood to the brain. Causes could be a blood clot in an artery of the brain or a clot that migrates to the brain from another part of the body (most often the heart). Injury to or narrowing of a blood vessel can also interrupt blood flow.

Stroke vs. TIA

In a TIA the interruption is temporary; in most cases, the clot breaks up quickly. In a stroke, the clot or blockage remains much longer, resulting in damage to brain tissue. The longer a stroke is untreated, the greater the damage to the brain. It is very important to act quickly. Because the symptoms of a TIA and a stroke are the same, those experiencing symptoms should be taken to the emergency department immediately for comprehensive, expedited assessment and treatment.

Recognizing the importance of this emergency service, Rhode Island Hospital has a dedicated TIA unit within its Andrew F. Anderson Emergency Center. We realize that this is often a patient’s first contact in a health care setting for evaluation for TIA or possible stroke, and we are committed to optimal assessment and care within this critical timeframe.

Causes of TIA

TIA is usually caused by one of three things:

  • Low blood flow at a narrowing of a major artery that transports blood back to the brain, such as the carotid artery
  • A blood clot that occurs in another part of the body and breaks off, traveling to the brain and blocking a blood vessel in the brain
  • Narrowing of a smaller blood vessel in the brain due to plaque build-up, causing short-term blockage of blood flow

Learn more about the TIA Unit at Rhode Island Hospital