What is a mini-stroke?

It may be called mini, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. What is a mini-stroke, and how is it different from its full-blown counterpart?

A mini-stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA), happens when the blood supply to the brain is cut off for a short time, usually because a blood clot gets stuck in an artery.

Although it doesn’t usually cause permanent damage, a mini-stroke can be a warning sign that a full-blown stroke is looming. About one in three people who have a TIA go on to have a stroke, often within the next few years.

In a stroke, the blood supply is cut off for a longer period of time than in a TIA and causes permanent damage.

To learn more about transient ischemic attack prevention and treatment, visit the UPMC Stroke Institute.

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Signs of a Mini-Stroke

The symptoms of a TIA are virtually identical to those of a stroke; it’s just the length of time that makes a difference.

The symptoms of a mini-stroke typically last just a few minutes, although they can linger for 24 hours. Because the signs of a mini-stroke and regular stroke are so similar, it’s important to get medical help as soon as possible if you or a loved one experience any of the following:

  • Inability to move or numbness on one side of the body
  • Difficulty talking or understanding speech
  • Trouble balancing, dizziness
  • Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes; blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Altered sense of taste or smell

If someone experiences signs of a mini-stroke, you should call 911 immediately. Even if the symptoms are gone by the time the person gets to the hospital, a stroke can follow at any time, so it’s important to get checked out. The doctor may order follow-up tests, including blood work, ultrasounds of the heart, chest x-rays, CT and MRI scans, and an ultrasound of the carotid arteries in the neck.

Risk Factors for Mini-Stroke

How can you reduce your chance of having a mini-stroke? Some risk factors are out of your control. For instance, you’re more likely to have a TIA if you have family history of stroke. Men, older people, and people of African, South Asian, and Caribbean ancestry are also more likely to have mini-strokes.

Controllable risk factors include:

To reduce your risk of having a mini-stroke, it’s important to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating well, reducing your sodium intake, exercising regularly, and limiting smoking and alcohol consumption. To learn more about transient ischemic attack prevention and treatment, visit the UPMC Stroke Institute.

About Neurosurgery

The UPMC Department of Neurosurgery is the largest academic neurosurgical provider in the United States. We perform more than 11,000 procedures each year. We treat conditions of the brain, skull base, spine, and nerves, including the most complex disorders. Whether your condition requires surgery or not, we strive to provide the most advanced, complete care possible. Our surgeons are developing new techniques and tools, including minimally invasive treatments. U.S. News & World Report ranks neurology and neurosurgery at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as among the best in the country. We also rank among the top neurosurgery departments in the U.S. for National Institutes of Health funding, a benchmark in research excellence.