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In silent strokes, brain injury occurs from blockage or rupture of a blood vessel, but does not cause major, immediate symptoms, such as sudden weakness on one side of the body or sudden trouble speaking. The absence of typical immediate stroke symptoms is because the amount of brain injury is small and located in a less critical brain region. However, although a single small stroke may be “silent,” multiple such strokes can add up to cause substantial brain injury and contribute to problems in thinking (dementia), walking difficulty, and other chronic brain symptoms.
Silent strokes are small vascular events in the brain -- such as a brief interruption of blood flow to an area of brain tissue -- that cause lasting damage. However, unlike a stroke that is accompanied by symptoms such as acute weakness, numbness or language difficulties, you may never know you had a silent stroke until you get a brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which will show areas affected by the cerebrovascular event.
Silent strokes may cause subtle changes in cognitive function and can have a profound impact on your future health. Silent strokes have been associated with dementia, impaired mobility and falls, and they raise the risk for a full stroke.
Silent strokes are stroke-like findings in an MRI scan without symptoms, says Phaniraj Iyengar, MD, a vascular neurologist at Sunrise Hospital. In this video, he says that numerous silent strokes may create higher risk for damage after a major stroke.
Silent strokes are actual strokes, but they may not result in noticeable symptoms. Studies show that millions of Americans each year who thought they were healthy have silent strokes, and don’t have the classic symptoms, such as dizziness, numbness on one side or slurred speech.
However, these strokes can lead to memory loss or other health issues over time. And they could be a signal that a full-blown stroke is more likely.
Routine brain scans can detect a history of silent strokes, but doctors would have to be looking for them. Strokes can be prevented by keeping blood pressure under control, lowering cholesterol, preventing or treating diabetes, and not smoking.
A stroke often becomes apparent when a person suddenly develops slurred speech or loses sensation or the ability to move on one side of the body, either partially or completely. However, strokes can affect parts of the brain that control other parts of the mind/body's functioning, such that the changes are not so obvious. Such strokes are sometimes called "silent." These strokes may affect one's mood or ability to think or communicate clearly, and may go unnoticed. It is very common for elderly people who have an MRI of the brain for other reasons to show evidence of having had a stroke that they were completely unaware of. This means that strokes are far more common than many of us realize, and this should make us place even more value on stroke prevention.
It is possible to have a stroke and not know it. This is referred to as a silent stroke. An MRI taken for some unrelated purpose may show lesions on your brain. Those lesions are evidence of damage to the brain tissue caused by a stroke. At that point, you cannot repair the damage, but it is important to know that you are at greater risk for stroke then you may have realized. Talk with your doctor about what you can do to reduce your risk of having another stroke in the future.
A silent stroke is a stroke that occurs in a part of the brain where there are no immediately apparent symptoms. Different parts of the brain control different functions, and the symptoms of a stroke depend on the part of the brain that is damaged by the stroke. For example, a stroke involving the left frontal lobe would cause language problems because this part of the brain specializes in expression of language. Some parts of the brain are relatively “silent,” or strokes in these parts cause subtle problems that may not be picked up immediately. A buildup of “silent” strokes over time has an effect on cognition and function, so no stroke is exactly “silent.”
Silent strokes have the following characteristics:
- Silent strokes have no visible or outwardly identifiable symptoms.
- In most cases, people who suffer a silent stroke don't even know they've had a stroke.
- Silent strokes are referred to as "silent" because they do not present the outward physical symptoms that are typically associated with stroke, including slurred speech, paralysis, and severe pain.
- Silent strokes are a serious health concern, however -- they cause permanent damage to the brain, most often in the regions of the brain that govern mood, thought, cognition and memory.
- Silent strokes are themselves a risk factor for other types of stroke, including major stroke.
A silent stroke is a stroke that does not produce any symptoms. Sometimes a person with have a brain scan which shows an old stroke but the person never had any symptoms. This may indicate that the person is at risk for future vascular events such as stroke or heart attack.
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.