Silent strokes, ones that happen in your brain without you even knowing, can lead to full-blown strokes as well as cognitive impairment and dementia.
The most common depiction of a stroke is a person unable to move on one side of their body with slurred speech, but studies show that many stroke victims had silent strokes previously, that, as the name indicates, went unnoticed. The damage caused by the silent stroke, however, can be seen through advanced imaging techniques.
Since no one is suggesting that everyone get an annual brain scan, the next best thing is to understand the risk factors for silent stroke and control those. Two of those risk factors, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and blockages in the carotid arteries are simple to screen for and have effective treatments.
"The upside to all this is that there are steps one can take to prevent silent stroke," says Dr. Andrew Manganaro, a vascular surgeon and chief medical officer for Life Line Screening. "What it takes is a measure of awareness, routine screening and, if needed, treatment to prevent the blood clots that can lead to this long-term damage to the brain."
Silent strokes are 30 to 40 percent more prevalent in women than men and the results can be serious. Impaired movement, muscle weakness, depression, memory problems and cognitive problems are all associated with silent stroke.
"So when atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure or carotid blockage is present in a patient, that should be an indicator to her physician that she's at risk of a silent stroke," Manganaro says.
The key to preventing stroke is to get a full picture of your vascular health, so you can begin treatment and monitoring. Manganaro recommends routine screenings for the damaged arteries that indicate vascular problems. Testing for high blood pressure, carotid blockages and the presence of atrial fibrillation, along with peripheral arterial disease screening and abdominal aortic aneurysm testing are safe and accurate.
"These screenings can help you and your doctor get a full picture of your vascular health," says Manganaro.
To set up a screening appointment in your community that is affordable and convenient, visit www.LifeLineScreening.com.
To cut your risk of stroke, treating hypertension with medication and lifestyle changes can help, Manganaro said. Control your weight, reduce your consumption of red meat, eat more plant foods and talk to your doctor about starting an exercise program. If you smoke, make it a priority to quit. Smokers have double the risk of stroke than non-smokers, because smoking can lead to excessive blood clotting.
If you or your family members have noticed recent changes to your memory facility or mobility, consult with your doctor. In some patients, these have been symptoms of a silent stroke, but in any case it will benefit you to find the root cause and begin treatment.
Does silent stroke lurk in your future?
The first step in preventing stroke is knowing which conditions can enhance your risk. If you have any of these conditions, talk to your doctor.
Do you have a history of high blood pressure?
Do you smoke?
Do you have an irregular heartbeat?
Do you have hypertension?