How is a ministroke different from a regular stroke?

Answer From Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D.

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

A TIA is a brief interruption of blood flow to part of the brain, spinal cord or retina, which may cause temporary stroke-like symptoms but does not damage brain cells or cause permanent disability.

TIAs are 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 subsequent stroke. The risk of stroke is especially high within 48 hours after 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
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Double vision or difficulty seeing in one or both eyes

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

Your doctor may order various diagnostic tests, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or a computerized tomography (CT) scan, to help determine what caused the TIA. You may also need tests such as heart rhythm monitoring, magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) or CT angiography (CTA) to look for possible heart- or blood vessel-related causes.

Depending on the underlying cause, you may need medication to prevent blood clots or a procedure to remove fatty deposits (plaques) from the arteries that supply blood to your brain (carotid endarterectomy).


Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D.

May 26, 2021