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Silent Stroke: What You Need to Know

Have you had a stroke? How could you tell?

A stroke is a sudden stop of blood supply to part of the brain. Some people have strokes without ever knowing it. These so-called silent strokes either have no easy-to-recognize symptoms, or you don’t remember them. But they do cause permanent damage in your brain.

If you've had more than one silent stroke, you may have thinking and memory problems. They can also lead to more severe strokes.

Detecting a Silent Stroke

If you have a silent stroke, you probably won’t know it, unless you happen to have a brain scan and the damage shows up. You may have slight memory problems or a little difficulty getting around. A doctor may be able to see signs of silent strokes without testing.

Different From TIA

Like most regular strokes, silent strokes are caused by blood clots in the brain that don't dissolve.

Warning strokes, known as TIAs, or transient ischemic attacks, are caused by blood clots that dissolve on their own in 5 minutes or less. Unlike silent strokes, they don't permanently damage the brain. If you have a TIA, you’ll probably have some of these typical stroke symptoms:

  • One side of the face drooping or feeling numb
  • Weakness or numbness in one arm or leg
  • Slurred or hard-to-understand speech
  • Difficulty understanding speech
  • Sudden confusion
  • Sudden loss of balance or coordination

If you have any of these symptoms, call 911, even if it goes away after a few minutes. Like strokes, TIAs are medical emergencies, and it's important to treat them quickly.

Silent Strokes More Common Than You'd Expect

A study of middle-aged people with no apparent signs of stroke found that about 10% had brain damage from one.

High blood pressure and irregular heartbeat raise your risk.

The damage that occurs is permanent, but therapy might help you regain functions that may have weakened, using other parts of your brain.

Prevent Strokes With Good Habits

These healthy habits can help you lower your risk of both stroke and heart disease:

  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Cut back on fat, salt, and sugar.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on November 20, 2013

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