8 Misconceptions About Stroke

  • Senior African American man in wheelchair being hugged by wife outdoors in park
    Stroke Myths and Stroke Facts: Understanding the Difference
    Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in America, yet many people are confused about what stroke is, where stroke occurs in the body, and what predisposes a person to stroke. Common misconceptions persist, such as that stroke only happens to old people, stroke happens in the heart, and stroke doesn't have risk factors. By taking time to learn accurate stroke facts, you dispel misconceptions, increase awareness of stroke risks, enhance stroke prevention, and decrease fear of having a stroke.

  • Older Caucasian woman on bench with head pain being tended to by nurse or doctor in scrubs
    1. Stroke is rare.
    In truth, every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke—almost 800,000 people a year. Not only does stroke happen frequently, it is also a serious, potentially life-threatening health event. A stroke death occurs every 4 minutes, and stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in America. Understanding the prevalence and seriousness of stroke, and addressing stroke risks, encourages stroke prevention.

  • Colleagues taking smoke break outdoors
    2. Stroke doesn't have risk factors.
    Several health conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and sickle cell disease, increase stroke risk. Additionally, heavy or binge drinking, smoking, drug abuse, obesity, and sleep apnea increase risk for stroke. Family history of stroke or a previous silent stroke, mini-stroke, mild stroke, or massive stroke further predispose a person to stroke. A mini-stroke (TIA) is often seen as a warning sign for an imminent, more severe stroke. Working with your doctor to control health conditions, and deciding to make lifestyle changes, aid stroke prevention.

  • Senior Caucasian man in hospital bed being comforted by wife or family member
    3. Stroke occurs in the heart.
    The belief that stroke happens in the heart is one of the most common misconceptions. While atrial fibrillation (afib), a type of irregular heartbeat, can increase the risk of stroke, a stroke occurs when the blood supply to an area of the brain is diminished or interrupted. Following stroke—almost immediately—brain cells in the affected area begin to die from decreased blood flow that deprives cells of oxygen and nutrients. Despite this grim stroke fact, strokes are treatable and preventable.

  • Middle aged Caucasian man on stretcher being attended to by female Caucasian paramedic
    4. Stroke only happens to older adults.
    The March 2019 death of actor Luke Perry from a stroke at age 52 brought this misconception into stark focus for many fans. The fact is anyone, of any age, can have a stroke. While older adults may have developed health conditions, have less active lifestyles, or have unhealthy eating or drinking habits that can contribute to stroke, age is not the decisive factor for stroke risk. Increasingly, strokes are occurring at a younger age. Contributing factors for younger people may include: binge drinking, smoking, obesity, diabetes, and a family history of stroke. An awareness of the possibility of stroke at any age encourages the need to know and address risk factors.

  • Senior Caucasian woman at edge of bed holding head with headache or fatigue
    5. Stroke is always painful.
    A stroke can have symptoms that are not necessarily painful—or no symptoms at all, as in the case of a silent stroke. These symptoms can signal the possibility of stroke: difficulty speaking or understanding; weakness, numbness, or paralysis in the face, arm, or leg; blackened, blurred, or double vision; dizziness; or loss of balance or coordination. The symptom that does include pain is a sudden, severe headache that may produce vomiting or loss of consciousness. If you, or someone else, has stroke symptoms, don't wait. Taking these symptoms seriously is crucial to treatment and recovery.

  • Outside view looking into window of ambulance with senior Caucasian man receiving care
    6. Stroke doesn't require immediate treatment.
    A stroke is a medical emergency. Rapid treatment is key to stroke recovery, so it's important to call 911 or have someone take you to an emergency department at the first sign of stroke symptoms. People transported by paramedics have the advantage of emergency treatment on the way to the hospital, and potentially, more rapid diagnosis and treatment at the hospital. Someone seeking treatment within three hours of the onset of stroke symptoms may be given a thrombolytic, a stroke medication commonly called a "clot-busting" drug. This drug enhances the chances of stroke recovery.

  • Senior African American man playing chess in outdoor park
    7. Stroke always causes paralysis.
    While paralysis can result following a stroke, often only on one side of the body, paralysis doesn't always occur. Depending on the area of the brain affected, other forms and degrees of deficit may result. Brain issues can include memory loss, inability to learn new tasks, or lack of ability to engage in complex thought processes. Emotional disturbances, such as anxiety, anger, frustration, fear, grief and personality changes may occur. Vision deficit, difficulty speaking or understanding language, and sensory issues (such as, pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness) may result from a stroke. While these impairments present challenges, hope exists, and recovery is possible.

  • Close-up of physical therapist with hand on hand of senior man in physical therapy
    8. Stroke recovery occurs rapidly.
    Many people believe any improvement following a stroke happens only in the first few months. However, stroke recovery can continue up to two years. Post-stroke recovery usually involves a team of medical professionals including: physicians, mental health providers, and physical, speech, or occupational therapists. In addition to working toward improving stroke deficits, medical professionals coordinate management of stroke risk factors, which may include medication to thin blood and regulate high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Doctors will also recommend lifestyle changes that decrease stroke risk. With adjustments and determination, you can improve during your recovery, and limit your potential for another stroke.

Stroke Facts & Myths | 8 Misconceptions About Stroke

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  1. Conditions That Increase Risk for Stroke. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm
  2. Stroke Treatment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/treatments.htm
  3. Stroke: Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/symptoms-causes/syc-20350113
  4. AFib-Stroke Connection. National Stroke Association. https://www.stroke.org/understand-stroke/preventing-a-stroke/afib-stroke-connection/
  5. What is Stroke? National Stroke Association. https://www.stroke.org/understand-stroke/what-is-stroke/
  6. Post-Stroke Rehabilitation. National Institutes of Health. https://www.stroke.nih.gov/materials/rehabilitation.htm
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Last Review Date: 2019 Mar 29
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