Background: Cerebral infarction is a commonly observed radiological finding in the absence of corresponding, clinical symptomatology, the so-called silent brain infarction (SBI). SBIs are a relatively new consideration as improved imaging has facilitated recognition of their occurrence. However, the true incidence, prevalence and risk factors associated with SBI remain controversial.
Methods: Systematic searches of the Medline and EMBASE databases from 1946 to December 2013 were performed to identify original studies of population-based adult cohorts derived from community surveys and routine health screening that reported the incidence and prevalence of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-determined SBI.
Results: The prevalence of SBI ranges from 5% to 62% with most studies reported in the 10% to 20% range. Longitudinal studies suggest an annual incidence of between 2% and 4%. A strong association was seen to exist between epidemiological estimates of SBI and age of the population assessed. Hypertension, carotid stenosis, chronic kidney disease and metabolic syndrome all showed a strong association with SBI. Heart failure, coronary artery disease, hyperhomocysteinemia and obstructive sleep apnea are also likely of significance. However, any association between SBI and gender, ethnicity, tobacco or alcohol consumption, obesity, dyslipidemia, atrial fibrillation and diabetes mellitus remains unclear.
Conclusions: SBI is a remarkably common phenomenon and endemic among older people. This systematic review supports the association of a number of traditional vascular risk factors, but also highlights disparities between clinically apparent and silent strokes, potentially suggesting important differences in pathophysiology and warranting further investigation.