Background and purpose: Unrecognized or unreported stroke-like symptoms, called covert symptoms, occur in persons free of clinical stroke. Whether covert symptoms are associated with subclinical brain infarcts (SBIs) is unknown. This study examined the association between covert stroke-like symptoms and SBI/stroke in persons with no history of stroke or transient ischemic attack.
Methods: A total of 1881 Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) participants free of clinical stroke or transient ischemic attack (40% male, 50% black, 47-70 years) were queried for covert symptoms and underwent cerebral MRI during the baseline MRI visit. Symptoms were reassessed after 3 years at Visit 4 (n=1001; 39% male, 50% black) and approximately 10 years with a follow-up MRI (n=1006; 40% male, 50% black, 61-83 years).
Results: Covert symptoms were associated with prevalent SBI (OR, 1.94; 95% CI, 1.21-3.11; P=0.006). No support was found for associations between baseline MRI symptoms and SBI at the follow up MRI visit. In participants without SBI at baseline, symptoms at Visit 4 (OR, 2.96; 1.23-7.13; P=0.016) and symptoms at the follow-up MRI visit (OR, 4.29; 2.51-7.33; P<0.001) were associated with a combined outcome of new SBI/clinical stroke on follow-up MRI. Covert symptoms at follow-up MRI visit were also associated with having new SBI (OR, 2.26; 1.18-4.32; P=0.014) on the follow-up MRI that were not seen on the baseline MRI.
Conclusions: Covert neurological symptoms were associated with prevalent SBI, and when ascertained at the time of follow-up MRI, with new SBI. Covert symptoms may reflect heightened risk for infarcts.