Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Transient Ischemic Attack Underlying Cause

Transient ischemic attacks are caused by a temporary blockage of an artery that supplies blood to the brain.

The brain is very sensitive to any interruption in blood flow. Brain cells begin to die within minutes of losing their supply of oxygen and glucose.

Usually, the blocked artery is caused by atherosclerosis, which is also called hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis causes plaques to form in the inside wall of an artery. Plaques contain cholesterol, calcium and other material.

Plaques gradually expand, which causes narrowing of the artery and reduces blood flow through the artery. Tiny blood clots may break off of the plaque and travel to a smaller artery in the brain, where they suddenly block the flow of blood.

Sometimes blood clots can arise in other parts of the body and reach the brain, causing a TIA. The heart and other large blood vessels can produce clots that may flow through the bloodstream, to the brain.

The symptoms of a TIA occur suddenly, but symptoms resolve as the clot is broken down by natural blood thinners in the body.

Continue to Transient Ischemic Attack Anatomy

Last Updated: Jan 6, 2011 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Transient Ischemic Attack References
  1. Dijk JM, van der Graaf Y, Grobbee DE, Bots ML; SMART Study Group. Carotid stiffness indicates risk of ischemic stroke and TIA in patients with internal carotid artery stenosis: the SMART study. Stroke. 2004 Oct;35(10):2258-62. [15331793]
  2. Puranen J, Laakso M, Riekkinen P Sr, Sivenius J. Risk factors and antiplatelet therapy in TIA and stroke patients. J Neurol Sci. 1998 Feb 5;154(2):200-4. [9562311]
  3. Rothwell PM. Incidence, risk factors and prognosis of stroke and TIA: the need for high-quality, large-scale epidemiological studies and meta-analyses. Cerebrovasc Dis. 2003;16 Suppl 3:2-10. [12740550]
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