Study: Millions Suffer Silent Strokes

ByABC News
February 16, 2001, 11:21 PM

F O R T L A U D E R D A L E, Fla., Feb. 16 -- A surprising 11 million Americans each year have strokes that are never detected because they cause no obvious symptoms, although over time they may lead to memory loss and other ills, a study concludes.

Doctors have long known that people can have insidious silentstrokestiny spots of dead cells inside the brain that do notcause classic stroke symptoms. But the new study suggests they areextremely common, occurring in about 4 percent of the U.S.population each year.

Besides the 11 million Americans who have silent strokesannually, about 750,000 more have ones that cause classic strokesymptoms, such as slurred speech, dizziness and numbness on oneside.

Silent strokes are epidemic in this country, said Dr. MeganC. Leary. While they occur in parts of the brain where they dontcause symptoms right away, the word silent should be put inquotes, because their effects accumulate over the years.

While a single silent stroke may have no impact, repeated oneslead to memory lapses, mood problems and difficulty walking. Theyare also a sign that people are especially prone to full-blownstrokes.

Leary and colleagues from UCLA Medical Center released theresults Friday at a meeting of the American Stroke Association inFort Lauderdale.

Its an alarming estimate, said Dr. Robert J. Adams of theMedical College of Georgia. Its surprisingly high but verypossibly accurate.

The researchers say silent strokes are rare before age 30. Butafter that, their prevalence doubles every 10 years. By the timepeople reach their 70s, one in three has a silent stroke everyyear.

The researchers also found that some people have more than onesilent stroke in a year. When these repeat ones are added together,Americans have almost 22 million silent strokes annually. Thismeans that only 3 percent of the total number of strokes in 1998,when the data were compiled, were actually diagnosed.