Stroke Myths Debunked: A Quick Guide

 Brain scan

Strokes are preventable

Approximately 80% of strokes are preventable through moderate lifestyle changes and managing conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. Lifestyle changes generally focus on introducing a balanced diet low in “bad” cholesterol, regularly exercising, and quitting smoking.

Yet, a common myth surrounding strokes is that they can’t be prevented. They can!

Even more myths about stroke exist. Hopefully, this quick guide helps debunk some of the prevalent misconceptions about the disease.

Myth: Strokes are uncommon

Nearly 800,000 strokes occur in the U.S. annually; that’s nearly 2,200 daily. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the country and the leading cause of morbidity. Lastly, there are currently 7 million stroke survivors in the U.S. That’s about 2% of the population.

In economic terms, stroke costs the U.S. an estimated $34 billion each year through incurred costs of healthcare services, medications for treatment, and missed work days.

Myth: People under the age of 65 don’t usually have strokes

Strokes don’t care how old you are. In fact, over 30% of strokes occur in people under the age of 65. One in ten (10%) strokes occur in people age 45 and younger, and those numbers are on the rise.

At around 40-years old you should talk to your physician about your stroke risks and what lifestyle changes you can adopt to reduce those risks. Any adopted lifestyle changes don’t have to be drastic, but they should be sustained.

Myth: Your family history doesn’t affect your risk for stroke

There are several key risk factors for stroke, and family history is one of them. Family members share genes, lifestyles, and environments that can influence their risk for disease.

Genetic factors play a role in high blood pressure and other related conditions that can be contributing factors for stroke. There are also several genetic disorders that can cause a stroke, including sickle cell disease.

Family history combined with unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking and an unhealthy diet can increase your stroke risks even more.

Myth: Recovery happens only in the first few months following a stroke

Most stroke survivors experience the effects of recovery for the rest of their lives. The time shortly after a stroke occurs is certainly important in term of recovery; however, ongoing physical, speech, and occupational therapy can still yield positive results for years to come following a stroke. Like many things in life, recovery results are largely contingent upon the effort put in.  

Myth: Stroke happens in the heart

A stroke occurs when blood supply to a portion of the brain is cut off, starving that part of the brain of oxygen. This is often due to a blood clot resulting from some form of vascular disease.

There are three main types of stroke:

      Ischemic stroke – the artery (carotid) that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the brain becomes blocked.

      Hemorrhagic stroke – a blood vessel in the brain ruptures (breaks open) or leaks blood, putting pressure on brain cells and damaging them.

      Transient ischemic attack (TIA) – sometimes called a "mini-stroke," blood flow to the brain is blocked for only a short time – usually no more than 5 minutes – then symptoms subside.

Myth: If you’re not in pain, you’re not having a stroke

The more common symptoms of stroke include dizziness and loss of balance, numbness in extremities, loss of speech or garbled speech, and confusion or trouble understanding what’s going on around you. These symptoms deliver no pain at all to the stroke sufferer. 

Myth: If stroke symptoms go away, you don’t need to see a doctor

Temporary stroke symptoms are known as transient ischemic attacks (TIA). These can include numbness or tingling (often in an arm or leg), paralysis or loss of coordination in one side of the body, blindness or change of vision in one eye, loss of speech or garbled speech, and memory loss or confusion.

These can be warning signs prior to an actual stroke and need to be taken seriously. If you experience any of these symptoms even briefly, you should immediately seek medical attention. 

Myth: Stroke survivors need constant care

Although it is true that stroke is the number one cause of morbidity in the U.S., many stroke survivors live a fulfilling life. Stroke survivors live with the effects of stroke for the rest of their lives, but many make a strong recovery. It could take weeks, months, and even years for full recovery, but it is possible.