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What is a silent mini stroke?

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

A stroke occurs when something blocks blood supply to your brain or when a blood vessel in your brain bursts, interrupting oxygen getting to your brain. This blockage or burst can cause your brain cells to become damaged or die.

Symptoms of a stroke

  • Sudden numbness or weakness on one side of your face, arm or leg
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden trouble seeing
  • Sudden trouble walking or loss of balance
  • Sudden severe headache

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in women. Women can be at an increased risk for having a stroke due to high blood pressure (particularly during pregnancy), the use of certain types of birth control (especially if women using these birth control medicines also smoke) and higher rates of depression in women.

Some evidence suggests that stroke symptoms may appear differently in some women than in men. While women can experience the common signs and symptoms of a stroke, they may also experience less common symptoms, including:

  • Pain
  • Change in consciousness or disorientation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Palpitations (sensation that the heart is racing)
  • Feeling weak all over

What is a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain that usually lasts no more than five minutes. It’s a medical emergency and may be a warning of a future stroke. TIA symptoms occur rapidly and only last a short period of time. When a TIA is over, there is no permanent damage to the brain like there may be with a major stroke. Pre-stroke signs and symptoms may start prior to an actual ischemic stroke. Nearly 10% to 15% of patients who suffer from a transient ischemic attack will have a major stroke within three months. Many call a transient ischemic attack (TIA) a “mini stroke.”

The symptoms of a mini stroke, also called a TIA, can resemble early signs and symptoms of a stroke, so it is important to seek medical attention immediately if these symptoms occur, even if they go away quickly:

  • Sudden weakness, numbness, tingling or paralysis on one side of your body
  • Slurred speech or difficulty understanding others
  • Vision changes
  • Dizziness or loss of coordination
  • Confusion
  • Sudden, severe headache

What is an ischemic stroke?

The majority of strokes are ischemic strokes that involve blocked blood flow to the brain. Ischemic stroke usually presents as the typical symptoms of a stroke, including sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, sudden confusion, loss of vision, trouble walking, loss of balance and sudden onset of a severe headache.

Do some people have strokes without realizing it?

Yes, it’s possible to have a stroke without realizing it. This is referred to as a “silent stroke.” People who experience this kind of stroke may not know it unless they have a brain scan that shows some damage on the scan. A silent stroke usually has no symptoms. However, you might have slight memory problems or slight difficulty getting around.

What are warning signs of a stroke?

Due to the block of blood flow to the brain during a stroke, cells can start to die within minutes from lack of oxygen. Every minute counts, and you can help save a life by acting FAST!

Face drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.

Arm weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech difficulty: Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase, like “The grass is green.” Is the phrase repeated correctly?

Time to call 911: If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away, call 911 immediately and get them to the hospital.

It is important to get to the hospital as soon as these symptoms present. Getting treatment quickly can help reduce potential damage to the brain caused by a stroke.

Clinically reviewed and updated by Nora Laberee, September 2022.

  5. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. A systems approach to immediate evaluation and management of hyperacute stroke. Experience at eight centers and implications for community practice and patient care. Stroke. 1997; 28: 1530-1540
  7. Albers G, Caplan L, Easton D, Fayad P, Mohr J, et al. Transient Ischemic Attack – Proposal for a New Definition. New England Journal of Medicine. 2002; 347: 1713-1716

Symptoms — Stroke

Even if the symptoms disappear while you’re waiting for the ambulance, it’s still important to go to hospital for an assessment.

After an initial assessment, you will be referred to a specialist for further tests to help determine the cause of the stroke. You should be referred to see a specialist within 24 hours of the start of your symptoms. Treatment can also begin if necessary.

Symptoms of a stroke that disappear quickly and in less than 24 hours may mean you had a transient ischaemic attack (TIA).

These symptoms should also be treated as a medical emergency to reduce the chances of having another stroke.

Recognising the signs of a stroke

The signs and symptoms of a stroke vary from person to person, but usually begin suddenly.

As different parts of your brain control different parts of your body, your symptoms will depend on the part of your brain affected and the extent of the damage.

The main stroke symptoms can be remembered with the word FAST:

  • 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 1 arm.
  • Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake; they may also have problems understanding what you’re saying to them.
  • Time – it’s time to dial 999 immediately if you notice any of these signs or symptoms.

It’s important for everyone to be aware of these signs and symptoms, particularly if you live with or care for a person who is in a high-risk group, such as someone who is elderly or has diabetes or high blood pressure.

Other possible symptoms

Symptoms in the FAST test identify most strokes, but occasionally a stroke can cause different symptoms.

Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • complete paralysis of 1 side of the body
  • sudden loss or blurring of vision
  • being or feeling sick
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • difficulty understanding what others are saying
  • problems with balance and co-ordination
  • difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • a sudden and very severe headache resulting in a blinding pain unlike anything experienced before
  • loss of consciousness

But there may be other causes of these symptoms.

Transient ischaemic attack (TIA)

The symptoms of a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), also known as a mini-stroke, are the same as a stroke, but tend to only last between a few minutes and a few hours before disappearing completely.

Although the symptoms do improve, a TIA should never be ignored as it’s a serious warning sign of a problem with the blood supply to your brain.

It means you’re at an increased risk of having a stroke in the near future.

It’s important to phone 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance if you or someone else have TIA or stroke symptoms.

If a TIA is suspected, you will be offered aspirin to take straightaway. This helps to prevent a stroke.

Even if the symptoms disappear while you’re waiting for the ambulance to arrive, an assessment in a hospital should still be done. You should be referred to see a specialist within 24 hours of the start of your symptoms.

If you think you have had a TIA before, but the symptoms have since passed and you did not get medical advice at the time, make an urgent appointment with a GP.

They can refer you for a hospital assessment, if appropriate.

Page last reviewed: 13 September 2022
Next review due: 13 September 2025

The Warning Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke

Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States and can cause long-term disability. Most strokes affect people who are over the age of 65. However, a stroke can truly happen at any age.

Because having a stroke is serious, it helps to know the warning signs. That way, you can get yourself or someone you love help — fast.

What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when there’s not enough blood getting to your brain. The supply of blood going to your brain might get blocked in the large blood vessels that lead to your brain. Or, blood vessels around your brain tissue could burst.

Sometimes, a stroke is a massive brain attack. Other times, it could last a short time — 30 minutes or less. This is called a mini-stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA). Regardless of the type, a stroke needs immediate treatment and care.

Stroke signs and symptoms

A stroke can come on very quickly and suddenly. Warning signs depend on what type of stroke is happening. They also vary based on the part of the brain where the stroke occurs.

These warning signs can include:

  • Abrupt inability to speak
  • General overall confusion
  • Onset of a severe headache
  • Trouble understanding someone else speaking
  • Trouble walking, dizziness and loss of balance
  • Numbness or tingling of an arm or leg on one side of the body
  • Numbness of the face, which could result in drooling and difficulty swallowing or breathing

If you see any of these symptoms, immediately call 911. Seek medical emergency help for yourself or another. Don’t waste time diagnosing the problem. Don’t wait to see if the symptoms go away on their own. Even if these symptoms seem to subside, they’re still an indication of a medical emergency.

When assessing a stroke BE FAST

To make it easier to assess the warning signs and symptoms of a stroke, learn the BE FAST test.

  • B stands for balance: Is there a sudden loss of balance?
  • E stands for eyes: Has vision been lost in one or both eyes?
  • F stands for face: Is one side of the face drooping?
  • A stands for arms: Raise both arms. Does one arm suddenly drop down?
  • S stands for speech: Say something. Is the speech slurred or strange?
  • T stands for time: If you’ve answered yes to any of the above questions, note the time the symptoms started and call for medical help right away.

What’s a silent stroke?

You can have a stroke and not even know you had one. It’s called a silent stroke.

As with regular strokes, blockages and bleeding cause silent strokes. But they happen in a part of the brain that affects subtle functioning, like memory or reasoning skills.

A silent stroke doesn’t have any of the dramatic warning signs that a regular stroke presents. Instead, the damaging results of a silent stroke show up on a brain scan.

The long-term effects of a silent stroke, which include:

  • Depression
  • Changes in walking
  • Reasoning difficulties
  • Mild or declining memory loss

Preventing a stroke

There are things you can do to reduce the chances of having a stroke. They include:

  • Keeping an eye on your blood pressure
  • Stop smoking
  • Getting checked for diabetes
  • Staying physically active

Learn more about the stroke treatment and care available at Bon Secours.

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