Some people have strokes without realizing it. They’re called silent strokes, and they either have no easy-to-recognize symptoms, or you don’t remember them. But they do cause permanent damage in your brain. If you’ve had more than one silent stroke, you may have thinking and memory problems. They can also lead to more severe strokes.
Silent Strokes More Common Than You’d Expect
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.
Simple Test For Stroke That Anyone Can Perform
If you have a silent stroke, you probably won’t know it unless you happen to have a brain scan and the damage shows up. You may have slight memory problems or a little difficulty getting around. A doctor may be able to see signs of silent strokes without testing.
However, recently a team of stroke researchers has devised a one-minute test that can be used by ordinary people to diagnose stroke — and the test is so simple that even a child can use it. Such an easy, quick test could potentially save thousands of stroke sufferers from the disabling effects by allowing faster treatment.
“It is just three simple steps,” says Jane Brice, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Brice tells WebMD that the test is based on a scale developed by researchers at the University of Cincinnati. The three-part test, called the Cincinnati Pre-Hospital Stroke Scale (CPSS), can be used to diagnose most strokes, says Brice.
Brice and her colleagues measured the accuracy of the test by first teaching it to 100 healthy bystanders. The bystanders then performed the test on stroke survivors. To diagnose a stroke, the bystanders performed the following three steps:
1. Bystander told the patients, “Show me your teeth.” The “smile test” is used to check for one-sided facial weakness — a classic sign of stroke.
2. Then the patients were told to close their eyes and raise their arms. Stroke patients usually cannot raise both arms to the same height, a sign of arm weakness.
3. Finally, the patients were asked to repeat a simple sentence to check for slurring of speech, which is another classic sign of stroke. “In Cincinnati, the researchers asked patients to say, ‘The sky is blue in Cincinnati,’” says Brice. But in the study, the researchers varied four simple phrases such as “Don’t cry over spilled milk.”
Overall, 97% of the bystanders were able to accurately follow the directions for giving the test, says Amy S. Hurwitz, a medical student at UNC who helped design the study.
The bystanders were 96% accurate at detecting speech problems and 97% accurate at spotting one-sided arm weakness. They were less accurate at detecting facial weakness — with only a 72% accuracy rate for this test. But Hurwitz says, “It is difficult to detect differences in the smile of a stranger. We are hoping that in most cases the ‘bystander’ will actually be someone who knows the patient and so an unusual smile will be apparent.”
“This is all about time,” says Edgar J. Kenton III, professor of clinical neurology at Thomas Jefferson University in Wynnewood, Pa. Kenton, who wasn’t involved in the study, says that clot-busting drugs used to treat most strokes can only be given within the first three hours after a stroke. Thus, he and other stroke specialists constantly seek ways to speed treatment.
“This is so simple that even a child could use it. Look at how many children have saved their parents by doing CPR, and this is so much simpler,” says Kenton. He says he thinks the test should be promoted for use by the general public.
Brice agrees with this assessment, saying that it could be like the Stop, Drop and Roll campaign to avoid burn injuries. “We call it: Talk, wave, smile.”
Cut Your Odds of a Stroke
Things you can do to reduce your chances of having one.
Watch Your Blood Pressure
If you have high blood pressure and you don’t manage it well, your chances of getting a stroke go up. Ideally, your blood pressure should be under 120 over 80. If yours is too high, talk to your doctor about ways to change your diet and get more exercise. If that’s not enough to control it, they may prescribe medication to help.
Break a Sweat
Exercise helps you get to or stay at a healthy weight and keep your blood pressure where it should be — two things that can lower your odds of having a stroke. You’ll need to work out hard enough to break a sweat 5 days a week for about 30 minutes. Talk to your doctor first if you’re not in great health or haven’t been that active in a while.
Keep Stress in Check
Stress can make it more likely you’ll get a stroke, maybe because it causes inflammation in parts of your body. If you’re stressed at work, try some simple things to help dial it back. Get up and move around often, breathe deeply, and focus on one task at a time. Make your work area a calm space with plants and soft colors. And be sure to spend a healthy amount of time away from the office.
Obesity and the health issues it can cause — diabetes and high blood pressure — boost your chances of stroke. You can lower the odds if you lose as few as 10 pounds. Try to keep your calorie count under 2,000 a day, and make exercise a regular thing.
Have a (Single) Drink
Your risk of stroke may go down if you have one drink a day. But be careful: More than two, and it quickly shoots up. Heavy drinking can also lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes — all things that raise your odds of having a stroke.
Get Your Cholesterol Checked
High levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol and low levels of HDL “good” cholesterol can raise your chances of having plaque buildup in your arteries, which limits blood flow and can lead to a stroke. Cutting down on saturated and trans fats can help lower your LDL, and exercise can boost your HDL. If those don’t do the trick, your doctor may prescribe medication to help with your levels.
Pay Attention to Your Heartbeat
Atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heart rhythm, makes you five times more likely to have a stroke. If you notice a racing or irregular heartbeat, see your doctor to find out what’s causing it. If it’s AFib, they might be able to treat you with medicine that lowers your heart rate and cuts the odds you’ll get blood clots. In some cases, they may try to reset your heart’s rhythm with medication or a brief electrical shock.
Manage Your Diabetes
This condition affects how your body uses glucose, an important source of energy for your brain and the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. It can raise your odds of having a stroke, so it’s important to watch your blood sugar carefully and follow your doctor’s instructions.
The magic number here is 7: For every 7 grams of fiber you add to your daily diet, your stroke risk goes down by 7%. You should get about 25 grams a day: six to eight servings of whole grains, or eight to 10 servings of vegetables.
Eat (a Little) Dark Chocolate
Flavonoids are plant-based chemicals in cocoa that have all kinds of health benefits. For example, they can help with inflammation, and that can relieve pressure on your heart. Studies show a little dark chocolate a day helps prevent heart attacks and strokes in people with a higher chance of having heart disease. Just don’t overdo it because chocolate has sugar and saturated fat.
Smoking makes your blood more likely to clot, thickens and narrows your blood vessels, and leads to the buildup of plaque — all of which make you more likely to have a stroke.
Choose the Right Foods
A balanced diet of fruits, veggies, fish, lean meats, and whole grains can help lower your cholesterol. That means plaque is less likely to build up in your arteries and form clots. It also can help protect you from other conditions that raise your odds of having a stroke, like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Take Your Meds
This sounds like an easy one, but a lot of people have a hard time with it. Take your medicine for blood pressure, diabetes, and heart health on time and as prescribed. If you’re concerned about side effects, talk to your doctor before skipping your medications or taking less than you’re supposed to.
6 Warning Signs That Show a Stroke Is Coming, and It’s Really Important to Know Them
The symptoms of a stroke usually develop quickly but it can sometimes take hours or even days to notice that something is wrong. So, if you think that you may be experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important not to ignore it, even if some of them don’t seem too serious.