Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a stroke. Despite the fact that strokes are the leading cause of death and long-term disability in the country, there are a number of myths and misconceptions about the risks, symptoms and treatment of strokes. Here are six of the most common ones broken down.
Myth 1: Only older people get strokes
While it is true that the risk of stroke increases with age, strokes can and do occur at any age.
According to Dr. Rajiv Padmanabhan of Baystate Neurology, “Three-fourths of strokes occur in people over the age of 65, and the risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55. However, over the past decade there’s been a 44% increase in the number of young Americans hospitalized due to stroke. In fact, of the nearly 795,000 people in the US who have a stroke, 10% to 15% are between the ages of 18 and 45.”
Research suggests this disturbing trend is due to the rise in obesity-related lifestyle risk factors among younger people.
“Conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol which used to mostly occur in older adults are now common in younger adults. Given those conditions are directly tied to risk of stroke, the uptick is not surprising. It is, however, preventable,” Dr. Padmanabhan says.
Myth 2: You can’t prevent a stroke
Because of the seemingly sudden onset of strokes, many people are of the mistaken notion that they can’t be prevented. But, according the American Stroke Association, 80% of strokes are preventable.
“The most effective way to lower your chance of having stroke is to address the stroke risk factors that you can control,” Dr. Padmanabhan says. “Things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excessive alcohol intake, diabetes, and heart disease are all risk factors that you can lower. Some can be addressed through lifestyle changes while others may require medication. Regardless of the means, if you address your risks factors, you are effectively working towards preventing a stroke.”
Myth 3: Taking vitamins can prevent stroke
According to Dr. Padmanabhan, “At this point in time, there’s no data to support that that taking vitamins can prevent a stroke from happening.”
The source of this myth stems from the fact that there is a link between high levels of homocysteine (a chemical your body uses to break down proteins) and stroke. “Normally, vitamins like B12, B6, and folic acid work to break homocysteine down into other substances, leaving trace amounts of homocysteine in your blood,” says Dr. Padmanabhan. “It seems logical that taking high doses of vitamins would help to keep homocysteine in check. However, the research just doesn’t bear it out.”
Myth 4: It’s hard to recognize a stroke
Because a stroke can occur anywhere in the brain, the symptoms can be varied. But that doesn’t mean they’re difficult to recognize.
“The three most common indicators of a stroke are drooping on one side of the face, weakness or numbness of one arm, and slurred speech,” says Dr. Padmanabhan. “The acronym FAST is a good tool for helping recognize a potential stroke with F for face, A for arm weakness, and S for slurring. If someone exhibits any of these symptoms, the T is ‘time to call an ambulance.”
He continues, “A number of other potential signs are all most recognizable for their sudden nature. These include sudden confusion, dizziness, trouble seeing, difficulty walking, severe headache, and weakness or numbness, most often on one side of the body. Again, if someone exhibits any of these symptoms, don’t hesitate. Call an ambulance.”
Myth 5: There is no treatment for stroke
Actually, there are a number of extremely effective treatments for stroke. The best treatment option depends on the type of stroke that has occurred. The goal of all treatments is to restore normal flow of blood to the brain. For some patients, surgery may be required while others may find success with medication. Regardless of the type of stroke or treatment, the sooner you seek medical help the better the chances for recovery.
Myth 6: Aspirin is an effective home remedy for stroke
While aspirin has been proven to be helpful in breaking up clots during a heart attack, that clot-busting ability does not necessarily apply to strokes. In fact, says Dr. Padmanabhan, “Aspirin could actually be harmful if the person is having a stroke caused by bleeding into the brain. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, the best course of action is to skip the aspirin and get them to the hospital immediately.”
Myth 7: Having Energy Drinks will lead to stroke
Having one energy drink now and then doesn't mean you'll definitely have a stroke.
But having too many too often could lead you to develop condition called reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS) which can result in the risk of stroke.
Myth 8: Using artificial sweeteners lower stroke risk
New research from Cleveland Clinic shows artificial sweeteners actually lead to a higher risk of stroke.
Erythritol is a sugar substitute often used in foods targeting people with diabetes or who want to lose weight. But it can lead to a risk of blood clotting.
Researchers say you should generally avoid artificial sweeteners.
Learn More About Comprehensive Stroke Care at Baystate Health
When it comes to strokes, knowledge is power. Learn more about recognizing and preventing a stroke at Baystate Health.