What Is a Mini Stroke?

Understanding transient ischemic attacks (TIA)

stroke x-ray

A mini stroke, also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), is a brief period of lack of blood flow to an area of the brain. Lack of blood flow is called ischemia. 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. 


The healthy brain requires a constant delivery of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to each one of its approximately 100 billion neurons.

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 or cholesterol plaques, 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 happens because neurons in ischemic areas starve and rapidly stop functioning.


The symptoms of a TIA can last from a few minutes to a few hours, but by definition they go away in less than 24 hours. Most of the time, mini strokes are brief, lasting for only a few seconds or minutes. 

Up to 20 percent of people who experience mini stroke symptoms go on to have a major stroke within the following three months. Unfortunately, many people do not seek medical attention and thus are at high risk of experiencing a stroke before they are seen by a doctor.

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 his/her day because of vertigo, 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

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


The more we learn about mini strokes, the more convinced we become that they are a sign that a debilitating stroke is on the way. This is why no matter how mild or short-lived the symptoms of a mini stroke might be, it is extremely important that you go to the nearest emergency room immediately after you start feeling stroke-like symptoms. Even if you had a mini stroke a few days ago, you should still seek medical attention as soon as possible.

The urgency of this matter cannot be overemphasized.


Transient Ischemic Attacks: Advances in Diagnosis and Management in the Emergency Department, Duca A, Jagoda A, Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2016 Nov;34(4):811-835

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