He often comes asleep and his symptoms are usually atypical. A so-called mute stroke is therefore difficult to recognize for those affected and is easily overlooked. The diagnosis comes years later when the damage in the brain is already advanced or another stroke took place.
But how is it that a stroke goes unnoticed? What is the result and how can patients prevent? We asked a neurologist.
The cause is a circulatory disorder in the brain
“The silent stroke is defined by the fact that those affected do not feel any of the typical symptoms, register or overslept,” says Professor Mario Siebler, Chief Physician for Neurology at the MediClin Rhein / Ruhr Clinic in Essen and Regional Representative of the German Stroke Help. The incident is triggered by a circulatory disorder in the brain. Depending on where it occurs and which cells die, the consequences are stronger or less noticeable. Often brain regions are affected whose disturbance triggers no or only nonspecific symptoms.
Symptoms are undramatic or stay out
Vision and speech disorders, paralysis, numbness, severe headache and dizziness: these symptoms, which are considered typical alarm signals for a stroke, thus remain or occur only briefly and in a weakened form. So it can happen that the patient does not notice the incident and lives on as if nothing had happened.
“Only when many small, silent infarctions occur, symptoms such as memory disorders, changes in nature or gait disorders are noticed,” says Siebler. But even then, it often happens that some patients do not perceive or do not want to perceive such symptoms.
Patients “overslept” the dumb stroke
“Mute strokes are much more common than the obvious strokes,” says Siebler. Especially at night, there is a risk that patients will not notice the incident. “When such a stroke happens while sleeping, those affected no longer feel anything when they wake up.”
The diagnosis is usually very late, sometimes even years later. “Mute infarcts are usually detected randomly via imaging techniques of the head such as computed tomography or magnetic resonance tomography, on which the infarct scars are visible,” says Siebler. In one study, it had been shown that one in five affected persons who had been hospitalized because of an acute stroke had previously suffered a silent, unnoticed stroke.
Late effects: “real” stroke, dementia and disabilities
The fact that a mute stroke usually does not kill or leads to physical limitations does not make him less dangerous. Because the patient lives on in the belief that he is healthy. Without knowing that his risk of another stroke has increased enormously.
“The silent stroke can be a harbinger of another obvious stroke,” warns Siebler. In addition, the risk of vascular dementia and persistent motor disturbances is significantly increased if multiple silent strokes occur in succession.
Early detection of such events would be important in order to use preventive measures in a targeted and timely manner. Patients should, therefore, take unclear symptoms seriously. Especially people with an increased risk of stroke, ie people with high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol levels should be treated early and sensitized.
Prevention: Healthy Lifestyle and Cardiovascular Checks
Since silent strokes are often symptom-free and therefore difficult to recognize, prevention is even more important. A healthy lifestyle is crucial here, says Siebler. These included “a balanced diet, lots of exercises, abstinence from smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption”. In addition, the neurologist advises to regular check-ups at the doctor. Anyone who already has known risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol levels should have them regularly monitored and treated.