'Whispering' Strokes Are Common
Whispering Strokes Are Subtle, Often Overlooked, and Risky, Report Shows
WebMD News Archive
Aug. 2, 2007 -- Researchers have coined a new term, "whispering
stroke," for strokes with subtle symptoms that doctors and patients may
But whispering strokes shouldn't get hushed. A new study shows that
whispering strokes can dim patients' physical and mental functioning and cut
their quality of life.
"People need to take these symptoms more seriously and see a doctor
about them," says researcher George Howard, DrPH, in an American Heart
Association news release.
Howard works for the University of Alabama at Birmingham's School of Public
Health. His study appears in today's early online edition of the journal
Learn Stroke Symptoms
Before you read about Howard's study, review this list of stroke
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg (especially on one
side of the body)
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding speech
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Seek emergency care immediately if you or someone you know experiences those
symptoms, even to a mild degree.
Those symptoms don't always indicate stroke, but the stakes are too high to
see if the symptoms pass. Stroke is the No. 2 cause of death for U.S. adults.
It's also a leading cause of disability.
Strokes happen when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted. Most strokes
are ischemic strokes, which are caused by blood clots. Clot-busting stroke
drugs must be given shortly after the onset of stroke symptoms.
Other strokes are bleeding (hemorrhagic) strokes, which happen when a blood
vessel in the brain starts to leak. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), often
called ministrokes, are fleeting but can still cause irreversible damage.
Whispering Stroke Study
Howard's team studied more than 21,000 African-American and white U.S.
adults aged 45 and older. They completed a survey about their general
The survey included these six questions about stroke symptoms:
- Have you ever had sudden, painless weakness on one side of your body?
- Have you ever had sudden numbness or a dead feeling on one side of your
- Have you ever had sudden, painless loss of vision in one or both eyes?
- Have you ever suddenly lost one-half of your vision?
- Have you ever suddenly lost the ability to understand what people are
- Have you ever suddenly lost the ability to express yourself verbally or in
Participants also noted any diagnosis of a stroke or TIA, and rated their
physical well-being, mental functioning, and quality of life.
Whispering Strokes Common
Nearly three-quarters of the participants reported no history of stroke
symptoms and no diagnosis of stroke or ministroke.
But a sizeable minority -- almost 16% of all participants -- apparently had
had "whispering strokes." They had had stroke symptoms but were never
diagnosed with a stroke or ministroke.
People who had had whispering strokes gave themselves lower ratings for
physical well-being, mental function, and quality of life than people with no
history of stroke symptoms.
It's not clear which came first -- whispering strokes or poorer health. Like
other strokes, whispering strokes were associated with health risks including
high blood pressure and diabetes.
Whispering strokes appear to be "quite common," write the
researchers, who included George Howard, DrPH, of the University of Alabama at
Birmingham's School of Public Health.
Once someone has a whispering stroke, they may be more likely to have
another stroke, Howard's team warns. That's one more reason to always heed
stroke symptoms -- whether they whisper or scream for attention.
Talk to your doctor to gauge your risk for stroke and to learn how to reduce
your stroke risk through diet, exercise, not smoking, and medications, if
- Find others who have suffered strokes -- or loved ones of those who have
had strokes -- on WebMD's Stroke Support