A prompt evaluation of your symptoms is vital in diagnosing the cause of your TIA and deciding on a method of treatment. To help determine the cause of your TIA and to assess your risk of a stroke, your doctor may rely on the following:
Physical examination and tests. Your doctor may check for risk factors of a stroke, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes and high levels of the amino acid homocysteine.
Your doctor may also use a stethoscope to listen for a whooshing sound (bruit) over your arteries that may indicate atherosclerosis. Or your doctor may observe cholesterol fragments or platelet fragments (emboli) in the tiny blood vessels of your retina at the back of your eye during an eye examination using an ophthalmoscope.
- Carotid ultrasonography. A wand-like device (transducer) sends high-frequency sound waves into your neck. After the sound waves pass through your tissue and back, your doctor can analyze images on a screen to look for narrowing or clotting in the carotid arteries.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scanning. CT scanning of your head uses X-ray beams to assemble a composite 3-D look at your brain.
- Computerized tomography angiography (CTA) scanning. Scanning of the head may also be used to noninvasively evaluate the arteries in your neck and brain. CTA scanning uses X-rays similar to a standard CT scan of the head but may also involve injection of a contrast material into a blood vessel.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This procedure, which uses a strong magnetic field, can generate a composite 3-D view of your brain.
- Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA). This is a method of evaluating the arteries in your neck and brain. It uses a strong magnetic field similar to an MRI.
Echocardiography. Your doctor may choose to perform a transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) or transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE). A TTE involves moving an instrument called a transducer across your chest. The transducer emits sound waves that echo off of different parts of your heart, creating an ultrasound image.
During a TEE, a flexible probe with a transducer built into it is placed in your esophagus — the tube that connects the back of your mouth to your stomach. Because your esophagus is directly behind your heart, clearer, detailed ultrasound images can be created. This allows a better view of some things, such as blood clots, that might not be seen clearly in a traditional echocardiography exam.
Arteriography. This procedure gives a view of arteries in your brain not normally seen in X-ray imaging. A radiologist inserts a thin, flexible tube (catheter) through a small incision, usually in your groin.
The catheter is manipulated through your major arteries and into your carotid or vertebral artery. Then the radiologist injects a dye through the catheter to provide X-ray images of the arteries in your brain. This procedure may be used in selected cases.