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Silent Stroke: Symptoms, Causes, & When To Seek Care

Are you at risk for a silent stroke?

What Are They?  |  Symptoms  |  Statistics  |  Affects  |  Prevention  |  When to See a Doctor  |  Questions to Ask  |  Contact CIS

It may be frightening to learn you can have a stroke without realizing it. A silent stroke can have symptoms that can be extremely difficult to notice, especially for those who may not know what to look for. However, just because these stroke symptoms fly under the radar doesn’t mean they should be taken lightly. Silent strokes can cause permanent damage to the brain, and they should be addressed by medical professionals as soon as possible. Explore five important points you should know about silent strokes with Cardiovascular Institute of the South.

1. What Is a Silent Stroke? 

A silent stroke can occur when the blood supply to the brain is suddenly cut off, damaging brain cells in the process. There may be no warning signs or noticeable symptoms leading up to this, and many people do not realize they experienced a silent stroke until they undergo a brain scan. 

Because silent strokes do not produce the common symptoms associated with other strokes, this cardiac event can be easily overlooked or dismissed. However, ignoring these signs can be dangerous and lead to additional severe strokes and cognitive decline.

2. Symptoms to Watch For

You likely won’t know for certain that you have suffered a silent stroke without receiving a brain scan like an MRI or CT scan. After a silent stroke, a brain scan can show small white spots that indicate the presence of lesions. But, unfortunately, strokes that do not leave behind noticeable damage may be left untreated without a proper diagnosis. 

Those who don’t know what to look for could mistake the symptoms for a less-threatening condition. Silent stroke symptoms are often misinterpreted as signs of aging, such as difficulty balancing or controlling the bladder. Silent strokes may be accompanied by the following: 

  • Issues with cognitive skills and ability 
  • Temporary loss of muscle movement (including the bladder)
  • Sudden lack of balance
  • Rapid change in personality or mood
  • Problems with speech 
  • Loss of vision, strength, and sensation
  • Brief fainting

Act FAST

Experts also encourage the use of the acronym FAST to help people remember the signs of a stroke and the steps they need to follow. If you suspect someone may have experienced a stroke, follow the steps of the FAST method:

  • Face—Ask the person to smile and see if one side of their face droops.
  • Arms—Look for one sagging or weak arm when you ask the person to raise their arms.
  • Speech—Ask the person to say a simple phrase and listen for slurred or strange speech patterns.
  • Time—Every minute counts. Call 911 right away if you believe something is wrong.

Silent stroke affects up to 11 million Americans each year.

3. Silent Strokes Are More Common Than You’d Think

Silent strokes are far more common than most would assume. Experts say silent strokes affect 8-11 million Americans annually. And one in four people over the age of 80 has suffered at least one silent stroke in their lives. After discovering the telltale white spots on brain scans, medical professionals can often trace symptoms such as clumsiness or loss of motor function in the limbs back to the occurrence of a silent stroke.

4. Silent Doesn’t Mean Harmless

While silent strokes often pass undetected, the damage they cause can be quite noticeable. Once you experience a silent stroke, your risk of suffering additional strokes in the future increases.

The damage caused to the brain can result in:

The damage that occurs is permanent, but therapy and the development of healthy habits can help stroke survivors reduce the effects and prevent future strokes.

Therapy can help reduce the effects of silent stroke.

5. Preventing Silent Strokes

While strokes cannot be predicted, you can take proactive measures to decrease your chances of suffering from one. Factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, vascular disease, and diabetes increase the odds of a stroke. However, habits like checking your cholesterol, blood sugar regulation, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight can help lower stroke risk.

Make changes that you can easily maintain, like shifting to a heart-healthy meal plan. For example, a 2018 study showed that women who ate a Mediterranean diet decreased their stroke risk by more than 22%. Your doctor can discuss more options with you about stroke prevention that would suit your needs and lifestyle the best.

When to See a Doctor

Contact a doctor if you or a loved one experience the following concerning symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Balance issues
  • Problems with limb movement

These can be signs of a silent stroke and should not be ignored. It is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible in order to receive proper treatment and prevent further damage.

Additionally, those at risk for silent strokes—such as those with high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, or a family history of stroke—should also visit a doctor for regular check-ups and screenings. Early detection and management of these risk factors can greatly reduce the likelihood of experiencing a silent stroke.

Find a Physician

Our physicians educate patients on silent strokes and their symptoms.

Questions to Ask Your Physician

  • What could have led to my silent stroke?
  • What occurs during stroke recovery and treatment?
  • What can I do to reduce the risk of a second stroke?
  • When should I schedule a follow-up appointment?

Disclaimer

No published content on this website should substitute direct advice and medical care from your doctor or treating clinician.

Experience the Care You Deserve

At Cardiovascular Institute of the South, our goal is to provide a comprehensive and compassionate approach to managing stroke and related conditions. From preventive measures like lifestyle modifications and cholesterol management to advanced treatment options like transcarotid artery revascularization (TCAR), our specialists are here to help you live a healthier, happier life. During your visit, you can discuss any questions or concerns you have about taking control of your cardiovascular health. 

If you are ready to take steps toward maintaining or improving your cardiovascular health, schedule an appointment with a Cardiovascular Institute of the South specialist. Get the quality care you deserve, close to home!

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CIS Staff

Written by CIS Staff