How is a ministroke different from a regular stroke?

Answer From Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D.

When people use the term "ministroke," they're referring to a transient ischemic attack (TIA).

A TIA is a brief blockage of blood flow to part of the brain, spinal cord or the thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye known as the retina. This blockage may cause temporary stroke-like symptoms. But a TIA doesn't damage brain cells or cause permanent disability. This is how it differs from a regular stroke.

A TIA is often an early warning sign that a person is at risk of stroke. About 1 in 3 people who has a TIA goes on to experience a stroke. The risk of stroke is especially high within 48 hours of a TIA.

The symptoms of a TIA are similar to those of a stroke and include:

  • Numbness or muscle weakness, usually on one side of the body.
  • Trouble speaking or understanding speech.
  • Dizziness or loss of balance.
  • Double vision or trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

Symptoms of TIA usually last only a few minutes. But they may persist for up to 24 hours. Since the symptoms of TIA and stroke are the same, it's important to seek medical attention.

You may have tests such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or a computerized tomography (CT) scan. The tests can help determine what caused the TIA. You also may need tests to look for possible causes related to the heart or blood vessels. These tests may include heart rhythm monitoring, magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) or CT angiography (CTA).

Depending on the underlying cause, you may need medicine to prevent blood clots. Or you may need a procedure to remove fatty deposits, known as plaques, from the arteries that supply blood to your brain. This procedure is called a carotid endarterectomy.


Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D.

April 14, 2023