A transient ischemic attack (TIA), often called a “ministroke,” causes stroke-like symptoms like a drooping face, weakness on one side of the body, and speech challenges. It may be an early sign of a stroke, and it is always a medical emergency.

The main difference between a cerebrovascular accident (stroke) and a TIA is that the symptoms of a TIA are usually temporary and resolve on their own. The symptoms and complications of a stroke may be more severe and, in some cases, permanent.

However, since ministroke and stroke symptoms are nearly identical and TIAs sometimes precede a stroke, seeking prompt medical attention is essential. Both a TIA and a stroke are considered a medical emergency.

A TIA is a possible early sign of a stroke. Its symptoms usually last minutes, and they resemble those of an ischemic stroke.

Symptoms of TIA come and go suddenly and may be mild to severe.

The most common symptoms of a TIA and a stroke include one or more of the following:

  • drooping on one side of the face
  • weakness on one side of the body, often an arm or leg
  • numbness sensation on one side of the body
  • mental confusion
  • trouble speaking, including slurring words
  • difficulty comprehending others
  • vision changes, including blurred and double vision
  • trouble walking
  • loss of balance and coordination
  • dizziness or vertigo
  • severe headache
  • difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)

These symptoms are a medical emergency. Getting immediate care improves your outcome in case of a stroke. Only a health professional may be able to determine if you’ve had a TIA and if you’re at risk for a stroke.

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The symptoms of a ministroke may last as briefly as a few minutes. By definition, TIAs last fewer than 24 hours.

Often, the symptoms may be gone by the time you seek medical care. However, it is still essential to see a doctor. Your symptoms may not be present while they evaluate you, but it’s a good idea to clearly describe the event with as much detail as you can recall.

It is not a good idea to wait for your TIA symptoms to resolve on their own in case you may be experiencing a stroke or are at risk of having one.

In some cases, symptoms of TIAs may last for a few days. This happens if you have more than one TIA over a period of time, which may signal a higher chance of having a stroke.

If you notice one or more signs of a TIA or stroke, urgent medical care is a must. Receiving treatment within 2 hours of the first symptoms may significantly improve your chance of recovery if you have a stroke.

Symptoms that come on suddenly and without warning could be either a stroke or a ministroke. You may use the FAST method to determine if you need to see a doctor:

FASTSign of stroke
F for faceLook out for an atypical droop or uneven smile or eyelid.
A for armCheck if one arm feels unsteady or weak, or if you have difficulty raising it.
S for speech Slurred speech is a common sign of a stroke as well as suddenly not being able to articulate your thoughts.
T for timeIf you notice any of these symptoms, time is of the essence. Immediate medical help may be vital.

A ministroke doesn’t typically lead to permanent brain damage, but you still need an urgent medical examination if you have symptoms of a TIA.

The only way to tell the difference between a ministroke and a stroke is by having a doctor look at an image of your brain with either a CT scan or an MRI scan.

If you’ve had an ischemic stroke, it’s likely that it won’t show up on a CT scan of your brain for 24–48 hours. An MRI scan usually shows signs of a stroke sooner.

In evaluating the cause of the symptoms, a doctor will likely order an ultrasound to see whether there’s significant blockage or plaque in your carotid arteries.

You may also need an echocardiogram to look for blood clots in your heart, and it’s also possible they recommend an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) and chest X-rays.

If the healthcare team believes you’ve had a cryptogenic stroke, which means the cause is undetermined, a transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) may be part of the workup. This involves inserting a probe through the esophagus to provide a clearer image of the heart.

Read about the difference between a stroke and a heart attack.

Immediate treatment for a ministroke may focus on starting or adjusting medications that improve blood flow to the brain.

Once blood flow is stabilized, the doctor may elaborate a treatment plan to reduce the chance of other TIAs, a stroke, or other complications.

Your treatment may involve:

Learn more about treatments for stroke.

The symptoms of a TIA mimic the symptoms of a stroke. However, TIAs usually last a few minutes and resolve on their own. They’re still considered a medical emergency.

Signs of a TIA include a drooping face, weakness on one side of the body, mental confusion, and slurred speech.

Understanding the symptoms, as well as your risk level for a ministroke, can help you stay prepared.