Treatment

Once your doctor has determined the cause of your transient ischemic attack, the goal of treatment is to correct the abnormality and prevent a stroke. Depending on the cause of your TIA, your doctor may prescribe medication to reduce the tendency for blood to clot or may recommend surgery or a balloon procedure (angioplasty).

Medications

Doctors use several medications to decrease the likelihood of a stroke after a transient ischemic attack. The medication selected depends on the location, cause, severity and type of TIA. Your doctor may prescribe:

  • Anti-platelet drugs. These medications make your platelets, one of the circulating blood cell types, less likely to stick together. When blood vessels are injured, sticky platelets begin to form clots, a process completed by clotting proteins in blood plasma.

    The most frequently used anti-platelet medication is aspirin. Aspirin is also the least expensive treatment with the fewest potential side effects. An alternative to aspirin is the anti-platelet drug clopidogrel (Plavix).

    Your doctor may consider prescribing Aggrenox, a combination of low-dose aspirin and the anti-platelet drug dipyridamole, to reduce blood clotting. The way dipyridamole works is slightly different from aspirin.

  • Anticoagulants. These drugs include heparin and warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven). They affect clotting-system proteins instead of platelet function. Heparin is used for a short time and warfarin over a longer term.

    These drugs require careful monitoring. If atrial fibrillation is present, your doctor may prescribe another type of anticoagulant, dabigatran (Pradaxa).

  • Thrombolytic agents. In certain cases, thrombolytic therapy is used to treat an ongoing stroke by dissolving blood clots that are blocking blood flow to the brain. In these situations, the neurologic symptoms and findings will have lasted more than a few minutes and are not improving. The thrombolytic agent alteplase (Activase), also known as a recombinant tissue plasminogen activator, was first approved by the FDA in 1996 to treat strokes within hours of onset.

Surgery

If you have a moderately or severely narrowed neck (carotid) artery, your doctor may suggest carotid endarterectomy (end-ahr-tur-EK-tuh-me). This preventive surgery clears carotid arteries of fatty deposits (atherosclerotic plaques) before another TIA or stroke can occur. An incision is made to open the artery, the plaques are removed, and the artery is closed.

Angioplasty

In selected cases, a procedure called carotid angioplasty, or stenting, is an option. This procedure involves using a balloon-like device to open a clogged artery and placing a small wire tube (stent) into the artery to keep it open.