According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 800,000 individuals in the United States suffer from a stroke each year, and about 140,000 out of those individuals die as a result. Most strokes, especially fatal ones, cause apparent symptoms. But some of them also pass by undiagnosed and unnoticed.
A majority of people are aware of the obvious signs of a stroke, including excess drooping of the face and inability to speak correctly, but an individual can also suffer from a silent stroke as well. Signs of a silent stroke are not at all similar to conventional strokes, and it is entirely possible to have one without even noticing.
However, the consequences of this seemingly harmless stroke are disastrous and may include permanent damage to the brain cells. Although their initial impact can be relatively minor, they can cause severe cognitive decline and even lead to death over time due to repeated damage to the brain.
This gives rise to a pressing question: how do you know if you have had a stroke without any apparent symptoms? This article delves into signs of a silent stroke and how it can be treated. Let’s get right into it!
What is a Silent Stroke?
Silent stroke refers to a stroke-like attack that does not cause noticeable symptoms. Strokes are typically caused by a blood clot that impedes blood flow to the brain, stopping oxygen and blood from reaching particular areas.
This causes brain cells in those areas to die, hampering specific functions of the body performed by the affected area. But sometimes, the affected area is relatively small and occurs in a part of the brain that does not control visible or vital functions, so the stroke remains undetected.
Is a stroke similar to a silent stroke?
Symptoms of a stroke are typically highly noticeable when the affected brain parts are associated with crucial body functions. Although a silent stroke occurs for the same reasons as a stroke – sudden interruption of blood flow to specific brain parts preventing oxygen from reaching there- it generally affects the parts of the brain not associated with vital body functions.
Therefore, a silent stroke differs from a TIA or major stroke because of harder-to-notice symptoms. A silent stroke is as harmful as a TIA or stroke, especially if an individual suffers from more than one silent stroke.
What are the signs of a silent stroke?
Since silent stroke signs are relatively difficult to detect, an individual who has had one may not know it until they happen to have a brain scan.
Most people find out that they have had a silent stroke in the past only when they have a CT or MRI scan for any other medical conditions and medical professionals notice small areas of the brain that have sustained damage due to it. A brain MRI or CT scan shows white lesions or spots in particular brain areas where cells have stopped working.
Symptoms of a Silent Stroke
Individuals who have a silent stroke may suffer from slight memory problems or face mild difficulty getting around. Silent strokes do have subtle symptoms, if not definite ones. Still, they are usually misconstrued for typical signs of aging, such as leakage of urine, difficulty maintaining balance or coordination, emotional or mood changes, frequent tripping or falling, and diminished thinking abilities.
Some other common symptoms of silent stroke may include:
- Frequent headaches
- Blurry vision
- Cognitive or memory problems
- Loss of grip strength or weakness in a limb
- Problems with balance and coordinated movements
- Fatigue or restlessness
- Difficulties in speech
A majority of people who have had one or more silent strokes go on to have a major stroke. That is why it is crucial to see a medical professional if you suffer from any of these symptoms, no matter how minor.
Getting an early evaluation or diagnosis can reduce your risk of having a major stroke or minimize the after-effects. Getting regular vascular and cardiac screenings can also help a medical professional identify risk factors, thereby allowing you to take preventive action immediately.
Treatment for a Silent Stroke
An individual who has had a silent stroke must undergo a series of tests, including a silent stroke MRI, CT scan, electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to detect cardiovascular abnormalities, and blood tests to identify any underlying conditions that may cause symptoms associated with a stroke.
If a silent stroke causes heart failure, it can be treated by heart valve replacement. However, an appropriate treatment option can only be chosen once a medical professional identifies the affected area of the brain, type of stroke, and extent of damage caused by it.
Depending upon all these factors, the treatment process may include:
- Thrombolysis: a medical process that uses medication to dissolve blood clots and restore hampered blood flow.
- Medication: specific drugs can relieve underlying conditions or risk factors for silent strokes, such as high blood pressure.
- Surgery: surgical processes may be necessary to remove blood clots that do not respond to medication, relieve pressure due to excessive bleeding, or fix damaged arteries.
- Therapy: in case of irreversible or untreatable effects of stroke, therapy can mitigate some symptoms and stimulate other parts of the brain so that a patient may regain some weakened abilities.
Prevention of Silent Strokes
Although spotting a silent stroke and regaining the affected areas of the brain after an episode is considerably hard, it is relatively easy to prevent a silent stroke from happening in the first place. Let us look at some easy preventive measures that you can easily inculcate in your daily life:
Keeping blood pressure under control
Researchers consider hypertension (high blood pressure) one of the most significant risk factors for a silent stroke. It is crucial to keep your blood pressure under control if you suffer from hypertension. This can be done in several ways, such as cutting down on your salt intake.
According to the American Stroke Association, cutting down your sodium intake can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke. However, salt intake does not only refer to the salt that we sprinkle on food, as about 70% of an average individual’s sodium intake is in prepackaged and frozen foods.
Saying no to a sedentary lifestyle
Developing a healthy exercise schedule plays a significant role in keeping blood pressure at bay: a study conducted in 2011 showed that about thirty minutes of moderate exercise five days a week can lower an individual’s chances of having a silent stroke by about 40% percent.
Physically active individuals are also least likely to develop stroke-related complications and face difficulties in reversing symptoms.
Reducing your cholesterol levels
It is vital to maintain an overall cholesterol level lower than 100 mg/dL to reduce your risk of a silent stroke. The HDL or good cholesterol levels should ideally be around 60 mg/dL or higher, and the LDL or bad cholesterol levels should be under 100 mg/dL.
High cholesterol levels can also cause various cardiovascular complications and increase the risk of heart attack or failure.
Managing your weight
Obesity is aptly known as the mother of all diseases, and you can reduce your risk of a silent stroke by steering away from it. It is critical to maintain your weight within the average body mass index, which ranges between 18.5 to 24.9.
Maintaining an ideal body mass index can also help treat several other conditions, such as hypertension, high blood glucose levels, and high cholesterol.
Keeping blood glucose levels in check
Diabetes is amongst one of the leading causes of stroke, may it be silent, TIA, or ischemic. Extensive research shows that keeping your blood glucose in check can considerably lower your risk of stroke, obesity, and several cardiovascular disorders.
Smoking is commonly associated with an increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular disorders. If you are at high risk for stroke, it is about time you get some nicotine patches to quit smoking.
Reducing the intake of artificially sweetened drinks
Recent studies have shed light on the adverse effects of artificially sweetened drinks and have pointed out that they can potentially increase the risk of both stroke and dementia.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle and diet
It is essential to adopt a healthy lifestyle with healthy eating habits to reduce your risk of a silent stroke and several other common health problems as well. A dietary routine having around five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day is considered healthy by adults.
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