Transient ischemic attack

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A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a type of transient neurological attack. In a TIA, the focal area of brain cells were not killed, but only transiently deprived of blood supply and the signs of what seems to be a stroke, (or black-out), pass quickly and completely. A TIA is often a warning sign of an impending stroke, however, and like a true stroke, is a neurological emergency. None the less, a TIA is not a true stroke.

It may first be seen by an emergency physician, who will obtain neurological consultation.


History and physical examination

The history and physical examination of patients with a possible TIA is difficult to interpret. Two neurologists interviewing the same patient have statistically 'substantial' but imperfect agreement about whether the patient had a TIA.[1] Disagreement may occur even when a 'standardized' patient is trained to give identical histories to each neurologist.[2]

Differential diagnosis

Other disorders that may cause similar symptoms are syncope, seizure, migraine, vestibulopathy, and conversion disorder.[3]


Anti-platelet drugs

The most effective anti-platelet treatment is probably to combine aspirin, 25 mg twice a day with extended-release dipyridamole 200 mg twice a day according to the ESPRIT[4]

The combination of aspirin and clopidogrel should probably be avoided according to the MATCH[5] and CHARISMA[6] studies.

Invasive treatment

Carotid endarterectomy may prevent stroke in patients with more than 70% stenosis of the carotid artery.[7]

Expedited care protocol

A before and after comparison study found reduced mortality fell from 10% to 2% with the following protocol started the day the patient presents for medical care:[8]

  • "antiplatelet therapy: aspirin in patients not already on antiplatelet therapy (75 mg daily), or clopidogrel if aspirin was contraindicated" (loading dose of clopidogrel 300 mg).
    • * "In patients seen within 48 h of their event, or those seen within 7 days who were thought to be at particularly high early risk", clopidogrel (75 mg daily, to be stopped after 30 days; loading dose of clopidogrel 300 mg) was recommended in addition to aspirin."[9]
    • However, as noted above combining aspirin 25 mg twice a day with extended-release dipyridamole 200 mg twice a day might be a better choice than either aspirin alone or aspirin combined with clopidogrel.
  • simvastatin 40 mg daily
  • "blood pressure lowering unless systolic blood pressure was below 130 mm Hg on repeated measurement (either by increases in existing medication, or by commencement of perindopril 4 mg daily with or without indapamide 1·25 mg daily)"
  • anticoagulation as required
  • "Brain imaging was required before starting combination antiplatelet treatment or anticoagulation after a minor stroke"

Another approach is based on the ABCD2 score (see below). If score 6-7, hospitalize patient If score 4-5, image carotids and admit if significant stenosis.[10]


Overall, about 10% of patients will have a stroke within 7 days.[11] This is especially true in patients with TIA due to small-vessel disease (SVD) etiology with motor weakness (capsular warning syndrome).[11]

A meta-analysis of 18 cohort studies found the risk of stroke after 7 days varies from 0% to 13%. The lowest rates were in studies of emergency treatment by specialist stroke services.[12]

The risk of stroke among patients presenting to the emergency room with a TIA is approximately 3% to 5% in the next 2 days and 4% to 7% over the next week according to a second meta-analysis.[13] This meta-analysis thought the ABCD2 (below) provided the best estimate.

Prognosis is worse if the carotid artery has a greater than 70% obstruction.[14]

Calculating estimated prognosis

History and physical

"The simpler FAST scale could replace the more complex ROSIER for the initial assessment of patients with suspected acute stroke in the emergency department.". [15]


The ABCD2 score ( is a clinical prediction rule that can predict likelihood of subsequent stroke over short term[16][17][18][19] or long term[20].

The risk of stroke depends on the study setting and how the data for the score was collected.[21] It may not work as well in a group with only a 2% risk of stroke within one week.[22]

Calculation of score

The score is calculated as:

  • Age ≥ 60 years = 1 point
  • Blood pressure at presentation ≥ 140/90 mm Hg = 1 point
  • Clinical features
unilateral weakness = 2 points
speech disturbance without weakness = 1 point
  • Duration of attack
≥ 60 minutes = 2 points
10-59 minutes = 1 point
  • Diabetes = 1 point

Interpretation of score, the risk for stroke from the original study:

  • Score 0-3 (low)
    • 2 day risk = 1.0%
    • 7 day risk = 1.2%
  • Score 4-5 (moderate)
    • 2 day risk = 4.1%
    • 7 day risk = 5.9%
  • Score 6–7 (high)
    • 2 day risk = 8.1%
    • 7 day risk = 11.7%
Improvements to the ABCD2

The ABCD2 score may be improved by adding the results of diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for infarction.[23]

The score may be improved by the ABCD3 score which adds a point for 'dual' attacks within 7 days.[24]

The ABCD and ABCD2 may be improved by adding hyperglycemia and a history of hypertension.[25]

Diagnostic imaging

The rule may be improved by adding the presence of brain infarction visualized on diagnostic imaging using either brain infarction on either diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography[26] or brain imaging combined with imaging of the carotid artery (ABCD3-I).[24]


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  2. Koudstaal PJ, Gerritsma JG, van Gijn J (1989). "Clinical disagreement on the diagnosis of transient ischemic attack: is the patient or the doctor to blame?". Stroke 20 (2): 300–1. PMID 2919420[e]
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