Medical history for a suspected TIA

The diagnosis of transient ischemic attack (TIA) usually is based on your history rather than a physical exam, because symptoms usually have gone away by the time you seek medical attention.

The sudden onset of one or more of the following symptoms without any known injury to the head suggests that you may have had a TIA:

  • Sudden numbness, tingling, or weakness in or paralysis of part or all of one side of the body (such as the face, arm, and leg)
  • Brief vision changes that come on suddenly, such as dimness, blurring, double vision, or loss of vision in one or both eyes, which is often described as a feeling that a shade is being pulled down over the eyes
  • Sudden difficulty speaking
  • Sudden difficulty understanding words
  • Sudden dizziness, clumsiness, staggering, drop attack, or fainting

Other causes of these symptoms need to be considered as well. When more than one symptom is present, the pattern of the symptoms can be used to decide whether they were likely to be caused by a TIA. The doctor will note which symptoms were present and which areas of the body were involved, which may help determine which part of the brain was affected. He or she also will note how long the symptoms lasted. Symptoms of a TIA usually go away in minutes (10 to 20 minutes).

The doctor also may ask questions to determine other possible causes for the symptoms, such as flu, inner ear problems, stress, rapid breathing, low blood sugar (if you have diabetes), or seizure.

Additional information obtained in the medical history usually includes:

  • Any history of previous TIAs.
  • Any family history of TIAs or strokes.
  • The presence of risk factors for TIA or stroke, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease, especially atrial fibrillation.
  • Any history of other diseases that may increase the risk of TIA or stroke.
  • What medications you are taking.
  • A recent injury to the head or neck.
  • The use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills).
  • Any drug or alcohol use.
  • Any history of migraine headaches.

Last Updated: November 11, 2009

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