Stroke is a condition that is often shrouded in mystery or, at least, misinformation. Although stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the US, most people rely on information about strokes that might hinder their understanding of how to reduce their risk, what to do if they suspect someone is having a stroke, or what stroke recovery might look like. Let’s look at some myths about strokes and set the record straight:
Myth #1: Strokes only affect the elderly.
While it is true that the elderly (i.e., those 65 and older) are at a higher risk for stroke due to aging, research shows that since 2011, mortality rates from stroke for those over 65 have actually decreased, but incidents of stroke in those younger than 65 have increased. This increase of stroke in younger people has been attributed to untreated high blood pressure, high cholesterol, drug use, and smoking. CBS News reports that even infants can experience strokes and that almost one-quarter of strokes take place in people younger than 65.
Myth #2: A stroke happens in the heart.
A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. This can happen due to a blockage (like a blood clot blocking an artery) or due to a hemorrhage (where a blood vessel in the brain bursts). While it is true that a heart irregularity called atrial fibrillation can sometimes be a warning sign for stroke, the damage is done in the brain because of the stopped blood flow.
Myth #3: Having an inherited (or genetic) tendency means you can’t prevent strokes.
Although it is good to know if your family history includes the occurrence of strokes, it is also encouraging to know that there are factors you can control to reduce your risk. The National Institute on Aging says that managing blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol levels will help, along with not smoking, eating healthfully, and exercising. Having a family history of stroke does not have to mean you’ll experience stroke, too.
Myth #4: Having a stroke will mean having a really bad headache.
A stroke that results from a hemorrhage in the brain may cause a severe headache, but often strokes do not cause headache pain. Instead, some primary stroke symptoms might include numbness on one side of the body, slurred speech, trouble seeing out of one or both eyes, and a loss of balance or inability to walk.
Myth #5: You can recover from a stroke fast, usually in less than 6 months.
It’s true that significant results can usually be seen within the first six months, but recovering from a stroke can take years, maybe even the rest of your life. Researchers indicate that this 6-month window used to discourage stroke patients who did not achieve the level of recovery they had hoped within this time frame. However, research now shows that stroke recovery can continue past the 6-month mark, and rehabilitation efforts can prove fruitful years after the stroke event.
Setting straight stroke myths can help you make the best decisions for yourself and for your loved ones if a stroke should ever present in your family. Doctorpedia supports your quest for the most up-to-date and accurate health information. Check with your doctor about other stroke myths to be sure you understand the truth about strokes!
- CBS News. (n.d.). 10 deadly myths about strokes. CBS News. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/2/
- George, M.G., Tong, X., Bowman, B.A. (2017). Prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors and strokes in younger adults. JAMA Neurol., 74(6), 695–703. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2017.0020
- NIA. (2017). Stroke. National Institute on Aging. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/stroke
- NINDS. Stroke information page. (2019). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Stroke-Information-Page
- Sun, Y., Boots, J., & Zehr, E.P. (2015). The lingering effects of a busted myth–false time limits in stroke rehabilitation. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 40(8), 858-861. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2014-0523
Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.