How to recognize a silent stroke

November 30, 2017 Swedish Blogger

Senior woman with headache sitting in the bed at home

  • [3 MIN READ]

  • The signs and symptoms of a silent stroke are subtle but can cause cumulative damage over time.

  • Silent strokes affect less functional areas of the brain that do not support speech or movement.

  • Silent strokes increase your risk for stroke in the future.

  • What’s good for your heart is also good for reducing the risk of silent strokes.

Approximately 15 million people suffer a stroke each year, and it is the second leading cause of disability in the world. When a person suffers a stroke, part of the brain is deprived of its blood and oxygen supply which often leads to permanent disabilities including paralysis, difficulty understanding language, memory and thought deficiencies, or chronic pain. 

Understanding strokes

Many people confuse heart attacks and strokes. A stroke is not a condition of the heart; it is an event in the brain that occurs when a blood vessel feeding the brain gets clogged or bursts. When this happens, blood flow to the brain is temporarily cut off. During a stroke, brain cells begin to die, resulting in permanent damage. A silent stroke occurs when blood flow is interrupted and destroys cells that do not control vital functions of the brain.

How to recognize a silent stroke

While traditional strokes can be obvious and sometimes devastating, silent strokes are far more subtle and difficult to recognize. The impact of a silent stroke is smaller and typically affects less functional areas of the brain. Because silent strokes do not affect speech or movement, many people do not realize they’ve suffered one. The cumulative effects of silent strokes may lead to significant memory issues or dementia and increase the likelihood of more serious strokes in the future.

Again, silent strokes do not have easy-to-recognize symptoms. In fact, if you’ve suffered a silent stroke you might never know it unless you undergo a brain scan to confirm whether brain damage has occurred.

The symptoms or signs that a silent stroke is occurring are often disregarded as insignificant or attributed to normal aging:

  • Impairment of a person’s balance, leading to more falls
  • Temporary lack of coordinated muscle movement
  • Loss of bladder control causing urine leakage
  • Changes in mood and personality
  • Loss of cognitive abilities 

How to lower the risk factors of a silent stroke

Certain lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of stroke by 80% or more. The biggest risk factors for silent stroke are uncontrolled diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Let’s take a look at the most common ways to reduce risk of a silent stroke, improve overall health and protect memory:

Blood pressure

Control your blood pressure by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a low-sodium diet, getting regular check-ups and taking medications as directed.


Lower your cholesterol by choosing healthier foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, soluble fibers and proteins.


30 minutes of moderate-to-intense exercise five times a week can reduce your risk of silent stroke by approximately 40%.  


Maintain a healthy weight to lower cholesterol levels and improve overall heart health. 


Eat a Mediterranean diet to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.


Quit smoking. Smoking more than doubles your risk of a stroke. 

The good news is silent strokes can be prevented if we keep our risk factors under control. There is no time like the present to reinvest in your health. So be sure to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in a normal range, eat a heart-healthy diet, get regular exercise, stay socially connected and involved, and get annual physical exams to reduce your risk of silent strokes and other vascular conditions.

Don’t forget to sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter for more articles on stroke, heart health, prevention, wellness and more! 

Find a doctor

If you have questions about your risk factors for stroke, contact the primary care department at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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