What Does a Mini Stroke Mean?

Understanding transient ischemic attacks (TIA)

A mini stroke, also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), is a brief interruption of blood flow to the brain that improves on its own. TIAs produce temporary stroke-like symptoms, such as weakness on one side of the body or slurred speech, that lasts anywhere from a few minutes up to 24 hours with no lasting damage.

TIAs are "warning strokes" that are strong predictors of a stroke. Up to one-third of people who have a TIA go on to have a more severe stroke within one year. Prompt treatment for a mini stroke can reduce your risk of having a stroke.

This article explores the causes and symptoms of mini strokes and how they're treated.

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What Is the Difference Between TIA and Stroke?

There are several differences between a stroke and a TIA. But, the main difference is that the symptoms of mini stroke, or TIA, disappear completely within 24 hours, while strokes leave long-lasting physical impairments.

A mini stroke occurs when there is a temporary period during which there is a lack of blood flow to an area of the brain. This is similar to a stroke, with the difference being that a mini stroke improves because blood flow is quickly restored before permanent brain injury can occur. In a stroke, however, blood flow remains impaired for long enough period of time to produce permanent brain injury.

Lack of blood flow is called ischemia. The medical term for a mini stroke is a transient ischemic (TIA) attack because it is a brief period of ischemia that produces sudden neurological symptoms, or those affecting the nervous system.

Because ischemia impairs the function of brain cells, a person who is experiencing a TIA develops temporary problems in brain function, such as difficulty speaking or moving the face, arm, or leg on one side of their body.

Causes of Mini Stroke

A healthy brain requires a constant delivery of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to each one of its approximately 100 billion neurons, or brain cells. To ensure normal brain function, blood travels through multiple blood vessels to every part of the brain.

Sometimes, however, blood vessels become temporarily blocked by blood clots (clumps of blood) or cholesterol plaques (clumps of cholesterol), leaving areas of the brain briefly lacking enough blood supply. The resulting lack of oxygen and nutrients in these areas is known as ischemia.

A TIA resolves before permanent damage can happen. However, if the blood flow is not quickly restored, then a stroke occurs because neurons in ischemic areas become deprived of oxygen and nutrients and rapidly stop functioning.

Mini Stroke Symptoms

Mini stroke symptoms can range from mild to severe and may involve physical impairment or loss of cognitive functions.

Most of the time, mini strokes are brief—lasting for only a few minutes. Others may last a few hours, but by definition they resolve within 24 hours.

The symptoms of a mini stroke begin suddenly and vary depending on the part of the brain that is affected. For instance, a person who suffers a mini stroke in the area of the brain that controls hand movement may develop difficulty writing for a few minutes or even a few hours.

A person who experiences a mini stroke of a similar size in the brainstem—an area of the brain which harbors the centers for gait balance, voice control, and eye movements—might feel temporarily unable to carry on with their day because of vertigo (a sensation of motion and dizziness), difficulty speaking, or double vision.

Mini strokes are most noticeable when they affect the parts of the brain that control movement and feeling in the face, arm, or leg. They can also affect the ability to understand and produce speech. Here is a list of the most common symptoms of a mini stroke:

  • Weakness of the face, arm, and/or leg on one side of body
  • Numbness of face, arm, and/or leg one side of the body
  • Inability to understand spoken language
  • Inability to speak
  • Unexplained dizziness or vertigo
  • Loss of vision through one eye or both eyes
  • Double vision or blurry vision

Is a Mini Stroke the Same as a Silent Stroke?

Although they sound similar, there is a difference between silent stroke and mini-stroke.

If someone has a stroke without realizing it, it's called a silent stroke. Usually, evidence of a silent stroke is found while undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test for another condition. They often do not even remember having any symptoms.

A mini-stroke, on the other hand, is a brief but memorable event.

Treatment of Mini Strokes

While mini strokes themselves improve, a mini stroke is a sign that you are at risk of having a stroke. That is why, even if you have recovered, it is essential to seek medical attention right away if you experience stroke-like symptoms.

Seeking medical care immediately after a mini stroke can reduce your short-term risk of stroke by as much as 90% and also lower your long-term risk of a stroke for at least a decade.

Sometimes, a person can experience a stroke within 24 hours of a first mini stroke, and sometimes months or even years after a first mini stroke. The problem is that you cannot predict if and when you will have a stroke if you have experienced a mini stroke. 

Your treatment plan will depend on the results of your TIA workup. After listening to your medical history and thoroughly examining you, your healthcare provider may run some tests to determine whether you have risk factors for stroke, such as:

Imaging, such as MRI or CT scan, may be used to get a view of blood flow and tissue of the brain, and an electrocardiogram (ECG) may be used look at your heart.

Your medical treatment will be tailored to lowering your chances of having a stroke based on your risk factors, and may include treatment with blood thinners.

Summary

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini stroke, is a temporary interruption of blood flow to the brain that resolves on its own and does not cause any permanent damage to the brain.

Mini stroke symptoms vary based on the part of the brain affected but may include a dizzy feeling, loss of vision, numbness or weakness on one side of the body, or difficulty speaking or moving. Symptoms may last minutes or hours but will resolve within 24 hours.

A Word From Verywell

A mini stroke requires medical attention. If you have had a mini stroke, you have a strong chance of avoiding a stroke if you get started on preventative treatment right away.

Taking action to prevent a stroke after having a TIA can have a huge impact in terms of preventing disability, and even in prolonging your life. Consider a mini stroke a health warning that you can gain control of.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jose Vega MD, PhD
Jose Vega MD, PhD, is a board-certified neurologist and published researcher specializing in stroke.