Stroke Focus: The Stealth Attack in Your Brain

Ischemic strokes occur when blood vessels in the brain are obstructed, resulting in cellular death in the body’s control center. When large groups of brain cells die, dramatic symptoms, such as face drooping and slurred speech, occur.

Silent strokes, formally known as “silent cerebral infarctions,” follow the same cause-and-effect pattern. However, because the blockages don’t happen in areas of the brain responsible for critical functions, symptoms may not be noticeable. Vessel obstructions that indicate a stroke occurred may be spotted on an imaging scan, such as a magnetic resonance imaging study, conducted for an unrelated reason.

That’s not to say silent strokes don’t cause damage. One occurrence increases the risk for future silent strokes, resulting in cognitive impairment and memory loss, according to the American Stroke Association.

That’s one reason it’s key not to dismiss memory loss as a result of aging. If your memory noticeably declines, speak with your primary care physician for evaluation and potential testing.

Know Your Risk

In a 2008 study published by Stroke, researchers evaluated 2,040 participants and found that the incidence for silent stroke increases slightly with age. Researchers found that the prevalence of silent stroke rose from less than 8 percent in participants between 30–49 years old to more than 15 percent in participants in the 70–89 years old range.

Researchers also found that hypertension and atrial fibrillation—the most common heart rhythm disorder in people older than 65—strongly correlated with the incidence of silent strokes. These conditions also lead to higher risk for stroke.

Other risk factors include:

  • Atherosclerosis—a disease caused by the accumulation of plaque in the arteries
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Smoking


Reducing Stroke Risk Is Within Reach

Proactively protect your brain by making key lifestyle changes. While you lower your risk for silent and other types of stroke, you also reduce your risk for developing a number of cardiovascular diseases.

  • Keep your systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) below 120 and cholesterol level under 200.
  • Eat between one and a half and two cups of fruit and between two and a half and three cups of vegetables every day.
  • Get moving. People who engaged in an active lifestyle—one in which people got 30 minutes of exercise five days per week—were 40 percent less likely to have suffered silent strokes, according to a 2011 study published by the journal, Neurology.