Silent Stroke: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, and More (2024)

Silent Stroke: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, and More (1)Share on Pinterest

Yes. You can have a “silent” stroke, or one you’re completely unaware of or can’t remember.

When we think of strokes, we often think of symptoms like slurred speech, numbness, or loss of movement in the face or body. But silent strokes don’t show symptoms like these. In fact, silent strokes usually display no symptoms at all.

Like ischemic strokes, silent strokes happen when blood supply to a part of your brain is suddenly cut off, depriving your brain of oxygen and damaging brain cells.

But a silent stroke is, by nature, hard to recognize. That’s because a silent stroke disrupts blood supply to a part of your brain that doesn’t control any visible functions like speaking or moving, so you might never know a stroke occurred.

The way most people find out they had a silent stroke is when they have an MRI or CT scan for another condition and doctors notice that small areas of the brain have been damaged.

Just because you don’t know a silent stroke happened doesn’t mean the damage is insignificant.

Silent strokes generally only affect a small area of the brain, but the damage is cumulative. If you’ve had several silent strokes, you may begin noticing neurological symptoms. For example, you might begin to have trouble remembering things, or you might have trouble concentrating.

According to the American Stroke Association, silent strokes also increase your risk for having a symptomatic stroke in the future.

Researchers have known for some time that silent strokes are fairly common. One 2003 studyshowed that a third of people over the age of 70 have had at least one silent stroke.

More recently, researchers have confirmed that having multiple silent strokes puts you at risk for vascular dementia, also known as multi-infarct dementia. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic say the symptoms of multi-infarct dementia include:

  • memory problems
  • emotional issues, like laughing or crying at inappropriate times
  • changes to your way of walking
  • getting lost in places that should be familiar to you
  • trouble making decisions
  • losing bowel and bladder control

Silent strokes are different from other types of strokes, including ministrokes, ischemic strokes, and hemorrhagic strokes. Here’s a breakdown:

Silent stroke


  • blood clots
  • high blood pressure
  • narrowed arteries
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes


  • no noticeable symptoms


  • damage is permanent and effects can be cumulative

Ministroke (TIA)


  • blood clots
  • high blood pressure
  • narrowed arteries
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes


  • trouble walking
  • blindness in one eye or cuts in your field of vision
  • sudden, severe headache
  • dizziness
  • confusion


  • symptoms last less than 24 hours
  • symptoms can lead to bigger strokes in the future

Ischemic stroke


  • blood clots
  • high blood pressure
  • narrowed arteries
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes


  • weakness in arms, legs, or face
  • speech difficulties
  • trouble walking
  • blindness in one eye or cuts in your field of vision
  • sudden, severe headache
  • dizziness
  • confusion


  • symptoms last longer than 24 hours
  • symptoms may resolve in time or become permanent disabilities

Hemorrhagic stroke


  • bleeding in your brain because of high blood pressure
  • drug use
  • injury
  • aneurysm


  • weakness in arms, legs, or face
  • speech difficulties
  • trouble walking
  • blindness in one eye or cuts in your field of vision
  • sudden, severe headache
  • dizziness
  • confusion


  • symptoms last longer than 24 hours
  • symptoms may resolve in time or become permanent disabilities

If you have a brain CT scan or anMRI, the image will show white spots or lesions where your brain cells have stopped functioning. That’s how doctors will know you’ve had a silent stroke.

Other signs are so subtle that they’re often mistaken for signs of aging, like:

  • balance problems
  • frequent falls
  • urine leakage
  • changes in your mood
  • decreased ability to think

There’s no way to reverse permanent damage done to brain cells from the lack of oxygen.

However, in some cases, healthy parts of your brain may take over the functions that used to be performed by the areas that have been damaged. Eventually, if the silent strokes continue, your brain’s ability to compensate will decrease.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, rehabilitative therapy can help people who have had lost some of their abilities because of stroke. Professionals that can help you regain function include:

  • physical therapists
  • speech pathologists
  • sociologists
  • psychologists

Some doctors prescribe Alzheimer’s medications to people with vascular dementia, but there’s no proof yet that the drugs work for these patients.

There are many small, practical things you can do to help your memory if silent strokes have impaired your cognitive abilities. Try these steps:

  • Practice routines for completing certain tasks at certain times of the day.
  • Create habits for putting things you need, like medication and keys, in the same spot every day.
  • Make to-do lists and instruction lists to help you remember the steps to complicated tasks.
  • Use a pill box to help you keep track of medications.
  • Set up direct payments of your bills so you don’t have to memorize due dates.
  • Play memory games to sharpen your skills.

Yes. It turns out that while it’s hard to spot a silent stroke and even harder to restore areas of the brain affected by them, it’s relatively easy to keep one from happening in the first place.

Here are some preventive things you can start today:

  • Get blood pressure under control. Researchers have found that high blood pressure raises your risk for having a silent stroke.
  • Exercise. One 2011 study showed that 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week may reduce your chances of having a silent stroke by up to 40 percent. If you’re physically active, you’ll also have fewer stroke complications and better outcomes than if you’re sedentary.
  • Cut down on salt intake. The American Stroke Association recommends that you cut your sodium intake to lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk for stroke. And it’s not just the salt you sprinkle: Up to 70 percent of your sodium intake is in frozen and prepackaged foods.
  • Manage your weight. A body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal.
  • Lower your cholesterol levels. To reduce stroke risk, your overall cholesterol level should be lower than 200 mg/dL. Your HDL (good) cholesterol should ideally be 60 mg/dL or higher. Your LDL (bad) cholesterol should be under 100 mg/dL.
  • Stamp out your smoking habit. If you’re still smoking, you can cut your stroke risk by quitting. Smoking is associated with an elevated risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • Ditch the diet drinks. A recent study noted that drinking artificially sweetened drinks can raise your risk for both dementia and stroke.
  • Eat your veggies. Have five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
  • Keep diabetes in check. Diabetes is a known risk factor of stroke.

A stroke is a dangerous medical event. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of a stroke, get immediate medical attention.

If you aren’t having stroke symptoms but you’re at risk for a silent stroke, see your doctor. They can help you develop a plan for reducing your risk factors and preventing a stroke.

A silent stroke has no noticeable symptoms, but it can still do damage to your brain.

Like regular ischemic strokes, silent strokes happen when the blood supply gets cut off to a small area in the brain, damaging the brain cells. Silent strokes have cumulative effects on the brain’s health and your physical and mental abilities.

You can cut your risk for having a stroke by:

  • exercising
  • eating healthy foods
  • managing your weight
  • reducing cholesterol levels to be in target range
  • limiting salt intake

If you’re concerned about silent strokes, talk to your doctor about changes you could make to prevent them.

Silent Stroke: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, and More (2024)


What are the symptoms of a silent stroke? ›

Silent strokes may be accompanied by the following: Issues with cognitive skills and ability. Temporary loss of muscle movement (including the bladder) Sudden lack of balance.

What happens during silent stroke? ›

A silent stroke refers to a stroke that doesn't cause any noticeable symptoms. 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.

Why do silent stroke happen? ›

A silent stroke is most often caused by reduced blood flow in one of the smaller arteries that feed the brain. It can occur without noticeable symptoms if it affects a part of the brain that doesn't control major movements or vital functions.

Do silent strokes cause damage? ›

A stroke occurs when there is a lack of blood flow to a part of the brain. Although there are some benefits to having little to no symptoms of a stroke, silent strokes can just be as dangerous and can lead to permanent brain damage and affect the person's body.

What are the warning signs 7 days before a stroke? ›

Warning Signs of Stroke
  • Weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, usually on one side of the body.
  • Trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Problems with vision, such as dimness or loss of vision in one or both eyes.
  • Dizziness or problems with balance or coordination.
  • Problems with movement or walking.
  • Fainting or seizure.

Can you have a silent stroke and not know it? ›

Sometimes, people may have a stroke and not know it. This can happen with a silent cerebral infarction, or silent stroke, and transient ischemic attack (TIA). Silent strokes do not cause symptoms, and people often dismiss the symptoms of TIAs.

How do doctors treat silent stroke? ›

If a person has a brain scan and their doctor detects one or multiple silent strokes, they may prescribe medications. For instance, blood thinning medications can help to lower blood pressure, and cholesterol medications can help to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

Can you fix a silent stroke? ›

A study of middle-aged people with no apparent signs of stroke found that about 10% had brain damage from one. The damage that happens is permanent, but therapy might help stimulate other parts of the brain so you regain abilities that may have weakened.

Can MRI detect silent stroke? ›

Can an MRI detect silent strokes? Yes, MRI scans can detect silent strokes. Sometimes, a person may not know they have had a stroke or a transient ischemic attack, which doctors may also call a ministroke. The symptoms may have been mild, or the person may have mistaken the symptoms for something else.

Who are at risk for a silent stroke? ›

The risk of silent stroke increases with age but may also affect younger adults. Women appear to be at increased risk for silent stroke, with hypertension and current cigarette smoking being amongst the predisposing factors. These types of strokes include lacunar and other ischemic strokes and minor hemorrhages.

Can stress cause a silent stroke? ›

The study, which appears in the journal Neurology, shows that stroke caused by stress is indeed possible — and any stress is harmful to your health and should be taken seriously.

Can you live a long life after a silent stroke? ›

A person's life expectancy after a mini stroke reduces by around 4% in the first year following the attack in comparison to people who have not had one. In the following 9 years, life expectancy reduces by 20%. These statistics come from a 2019 review .

What are the long term effects of a silent stroke? ›

Silent strokes increase the likelihood of more strokes in the future, and can cause cumulative damage over time, including a significant, lasting impact on memory. In fact, silent strokes are one of the leading causes of vascular dementia in persons over the age of 70.

Can silent strokes cause personality changes? ›

Changes in your emotions and to your personality are common after stroke. It's very normal to experience strong emotions after stroke, however these emotional reactions usually get better with time. Longer-term emotional and personality changes can be very challenging.

How do you know if you've had a mini stroke? ›

Recognising the signs of a TIA

Face – the face may have dropped on 1 side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have drooped. Arms – the person may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there, because of weakness or numbness in one arm.

What age do you get silent stroke? ›

Silent strokes are common; it is estimated there are 8 to 11 million silent strokes each year and that 50% of people over the age of 85 years have had a silent stroke. They are much more common in high-risk groups with hypertension being the greatest risk factor.

How long does your body warn you before a stroke? ›

Warning signs of an ischemic stroke may be evident as early as seven days before an attack and require urgent treatment to prevent serious damage to the brain, according to a study of stroke patients published in the March 8, 2005 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.


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