Silent strokes occur when a clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain, but the person has no symptoms. Despite having no symptoms, silent strokes can damage a small part of the brain. Due to the lack of visible symptoms, silent strokes can be difficult to identify. However, those affected may have mild mobility or memory problems.
Doctors usually discover silent strokes when a person has a brain scan for another condition. For example, the doctor may notice an old silent stroke if a person has a CT scan for continual headaches or dizziness. Read on to learn what silent strokes are, how to recognize them, their causes, possible treatments, and more.
What is a silent stroke?
A silent stroke is a stroke that has no noticeable symptoms. A stroke is caused by a blockage in a blood vessel in a person’s brain. This can damage a part of the brain that controls essential functions, such as muscle control in an arm. This can lead to symptoms such as weakness or paralysis.
However, if the stroke only damages a small part of the brain that does not control essential functions, the person may not experience any symptoms. This is why medical professionals refer to this type of stroke as “silent”.
How to recognize silent strokes?
Silent strokes have no obvious symptoms or signs. However, a person may have mild memory or mobility problems that they did not think might be related to a stroke.
Rather, silent strokes are revealed during brain scans performed for other pathologies, such as headaches, cognitive impairment or dizziness. A doctor can diagnose a silent stroke when they detect the following signs on a person’s brain scan:
tiny areas of blood vessels
The signs of a silent stroke can be very subtle. They are mistaken for the usual signs of aging, such as:
trouble controlling the bladder
a decrease in thinking ability
A silent stroke is similar to an ischemic stroke because it results from the blockage of a blood vessel in the brain by a clot. Although a transient ischemic attack also blocks a blood vessel with a clot, it is only a temporary blockage. This differs from a hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a damaged artery leaks blood into the brain and causes pressure to rise.
Atrial fibrillation, which commonly causes irregular heartbeats in people over 65, is linked to silent strokes. This condition more than doubles the risk of suffering this type of stroke. These two conditions also share the same risk factors, including high blood pressure and high blood levels of homocysteine.
Because silent strokes often go unnoticed, a person may never know they need treatment. She may also only find out she needs treatment after being screened for another health problem. If a person has a brain scan and their doctor detects one or more silent strokes, they may prescribe medication. For example, blood-thinning medications can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol medications can help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This can reduce the risk of future strokes.
A silent stroke is a risk factor for a future stroke. It can also be a sign of progressive brain damage. A person who has had multiple silent strokes may be at higher risk for mild cognitive impairment and early onset dementia.
How common are silent strokes?
According to a 2016 scientific statement, the risk of stroke increases with age. According to this statement, 25% of people over the age of 80 experience at least one silent stroke.
Prevention tips to help people avoid strokes include making healthy choices and managing pre-existing health conditions, such as:
eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins
maintain a moderate weight
do 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity cardio, such as brisk walking, each week
limit alcohol consumption
working with a doctor to manage conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
There are also diet and lifestyle changes, such as:
adopt a Mediterranean diet: a way of eating that includes nutritious whole foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seafood, beans, and nuts
reduce sodium intake
When to contact a doctor?
It is advisable to consult a doctor in case of balance disorders, headaches, dizziness or clumsiness in a limb that last a few days before disappearing. Because the risk of stroke is higher with age, it can be difficult to notice or remember even the mildest symptoms. A person who has a friend or family member at risk of silent stroke should be alert to any mild symptoms of stroke in their loved one.
Silent strokes have no visible symptoms, but they can still damage a person’s brain. A silent stroke is also a risk factor for a future stroke. A doctor can detect a silent stroke when screening for another disease and prescribe blood thinners or cholesterol-lowering medications. People can mistake the symptoms of a stroke for signs of aging. It is therefore important that people discuss any increased temporary clumsiness with their doctor, as this could be a sign of a silent stroke.