Differences Between a Stroke and a TIA

In This Article

The terms stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA) are often confused with each other. If you want to understand the differences between a stroke and a TIA, you need to learn the characteristics of both.

A stroke is an interruption of blood flow to an area of the brain that lasts for long enough to cause permanent damage to the brain. If you want to know exactly how the interruption of blood flow causes damage to the brain, you can find out more about that here

A TIA is a temporary interruption in blood flow to an area of the brain, and usually it does not last long enough to cause permanent damage to the brain.

Stroke and TIA Symptoms

Short Term

The short-term effects of a stroke or a TIA are the same and can include any combination of the following:

  • Weakness
  • Numbness/ tingling
  • Vision changes
  • Speech problems 
  • Falling 
  • Dropping objects
  • Drooling
  • Uneven face 
  • Confusion 

These short-term symptoms are based on which region of the brain suffers from a lack of blood supply during a stroke or a TIA. After a stroke, a survivor has permanent deficits that correspond to the damaged area of the brain. 

Long Term

In the long term, a stroke can cause permanent disability that corresponds to the short-term effects. Usually, the long-term effects of a stroke show some improvement over time. However, a stroke can also get larger or can cause swelling in the brain, so the long-term effects may be even more extensive than the short-term effects of the stroke. 

A TIA completely resolves and does not cause any long-term effects or handicaps. 


A stroke can be caused by ischemia (lack of blood flow) or hemorrhage (bleeding). A TIA is always caused by temporary ischemia, not bleeding. Bleeding on the brain does not resolve before damage occurs, therefore is usually not transient. 

The causes of an ischemic stroke and a TIA are the same. They include heart disease, blood clotting problems, blood vessel abnormalities such as the ones caused by hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking.

A bleeding blood vessel can cause a hemorrhagic stroke, but because the damage of a hemorrhagic stroke is permanent, a bleeding blood vessel does not cause a TIA. However, a damaged blood vessel may cause a TIA before it bleeds. 


A stroke may show some improvement or may get worse over time. About 87% of people who experience a stroke survive, but sometimes a stroke can be fatal. Most stroke survivors have some handicap and need physical therapy. 

A TIA resolves completely, but often, people who had a TIA go on to have repeated TIAs or may have a stroke within minutes, days or weeks of the initial TIA. 

This happens because often the blood vessel interrupted during a TIA is abnormal, so it is prone to becoming interrupted again. Sometimes, after a TIA, a person may have a brain aneurysm rupture or a hemorrhagic stroke if the cause of the TIA was an interruption of blood flow in a blood vessel that later tears and bleeds.

Imaging Changes

A stroke usually causes abnormalities that can be easily visualized on a brain CT or a brain MRI.

Even though a TIA causes transient neurological symptoms, ischemic changes in the brain, it can sometimes be detected on a specific MRI sequence called diffusion weighted imaging. In addition, blood vessel abnormalities in the brain or neck can be identified on imaging tests, such as MRA or CTA of the head and neck.


If you have a stroke, you will need careful medical management as well as a thorough medical evaluation to see if you have any stroke risk factors so that you can avoid having another stroke. If you have had a TIA, you will also need to make sure you have a comprehensive medical evaluation to identify and manage any stroke risk factors, because a TIA is a strong predictor of stroke. 


Prevention of strokes and TIAs is based on a healthy lifestyle and management of stroke risk factors. You can reverse your stroke risk. Some people with TIA and strokes may need surgery.

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