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Signs of a "Silent Stroke"

It’s silent—but there are signs.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Silent strokes that don't have overt symptoms are more common than people think, affecting at least one third of people over 70. "A blood vessel can get blocked off, the tissue supplied by that vessel can die, but the person doesn't experience symptoms so they don't know they've had a stroke," says Karen Furie, MD, MPH, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Stroke Service. Here are five symptoms strongly associated with silent stroke, according to physicians. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Cognitive Issues

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Ongoing cognitive issues could be a result of a series of silent strokes. "We know that if silent strokes really do start to accumulate that that can also start to affect things like memory and thinking," says stroke neurologist Dr. Shazam Hussain. "Coming into the broader topic of how stroke can affect other things, we know that there's a whole subset of dementia called vascular dementia, which is a huge proportion of the number of people who have dementia, and it's really related to these silent strokes that are occurring in the brain."



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Unexplained clumsiness could be linked to silent stroke, doctors say. "A silent stroke may also produce symptoms you mistakenly attribute to something else, such as garden-variety clumsiness or random memory lapses," say Toni Golen, MD, and Hope Ricciotti, MD. "Similar to reducing the chance of a major stroke, addressing cardiovascular risk factors, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, also lowers the risk of having silent strokes."


Loss Of Balance


Loss of balance and confusion could be signs of a silent stroke. "A silent stroke refers to a stroke that doesn't cause any noticeable symptoms," says Harvard Health. "Most strokes are caused by a clot that blocks a blood vessel in the brain. The blockage prevents blood and oxygen from reaching that area, causing nearby brain cells to die. Depending on the location of the clot, this can cause symptoms such as weakness in an arm or leg (which could cause a fall) or trouble speaking or seeing."


Memory Loss

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A silent stroke can directly affect the part of the brain responsible for memory, experts say. The damage can become significantly worse with multiple strokes. "The more brain damage or injury that you have due to these silent strokes, the more difficult it is for the brain to function normally," says Dr. Furie.


Speech Issues

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Sudden difficulties with speech could be a sign of silent stroke. "It is important to go to your family physician if there are concerns about neurological symptoms like weakness or speech difficulty because silent strokes put people at risk not only for future symptomatic strokes but also for cognitive decline and dementia," says Eric E. Smith, MD, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. "Radiologists should report it and clinicians need to act on it."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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