Is it possible for a CT scan to show a recent TIA (transient ischemic attack)?

Wouldn’t it be great if a TIA could leave “footprints” that can be seen on a CT scan?

This way, a doctor can point to the “footprints” and tell the patient with conviction, “Yes, you had a transient ischemic attack,” or, “You did NOT have a TIA.”

The answer to whether a CT scan can detect a recent TIA is “Yes and no,” says Rob Lapporte, MD, board certified in emergency medicine and chief medical officer of Physician 360, a telemedicine service.

“A CT scan is useful in the workup for TIA in two ways,” explains Dr. Lapporte.

First if all is “if the CT scan shows evidence of an infarct or hemorrhage, then it rules out a TIA.”

An infarct refers to a localized area of tissue that has died from lack of blood (oxygen).

So in scenario #1, the patient is then diagnosed with a stroke. In the second way that a CT scan can help in diagnosing a TIA, the scan does not show evidence of an acute infarct or hemorrhage, continues Dr. Lapporte.

In addition to that, the symptoms of the patient “are consistent with a TIA,” and the diagnosis of transient ischemic attack is made.

Dr. Lapporte adds, “If you’re asking if you can ‘see’ a TIA on a CT scan, the answer is no.  It’s a clinical diagnosis.”


“There is no test for TIA,” states a study appearing in Practical Neurology (2014 Feb; 14(1): 23–31).

The paper adds that “the gold standard remains assessment as soon as possible by a clinical expert.”

Dr. Lapporte has been practicing evidence-based clinical medicine in emergency rooms and urgent care centers for almost 20 years.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
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