Why you should be optimistic after a stroke: Scientists say looking on the bright side of life could ward off life-changing disability by slashing brain inflammation
- In a small study of 49 stroke survivors, researchers examined link with optimism
- The sample group were said to have reduced stroke severity after three months
- They also had less physical disability and inflammation markers
Being optimistic after a stroke could ward off long-term disability by reducing inflammation of the brain, scientists claim
Stroke survivors with a positive mindset can speed up the recovery from their illness and face less complications such as paralysis.
Brain swelling, referred to as cerebral edema, is one of the immediate short-term perils for someone who has just suffered a stroke.
Large strokes in particular may cause significant swelling on the brain that can worsen quickly and lead to serious consequences, including severe brain damage.
The swelling – which causes an array of side effects such as nausea and vomiting – is caused by inflammation, which can be combated with a positive mindset, the scientists claim.
In a three-month study of 49 stroke survivors, researchers from The University of Texas found post-stroke inflammation markers decreased as positivity increased.
In a three-month study of 49 stroke survivors, researchers from The University of Texas said that post-stroke brain inflammation decreased as positivisty increased. (Stock image)
‘Mental health does affect recovery after a stroke,’ said study first author Yun-Ju La, of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
‘Patients and their families should know the importance of a positive environment that could benefit the patient.’
Scientists, who are presenting their preliminary research at the American Stroke Association’s 2020 International Stroke Conference, examined the relationship between optimism, stroke severity and physical disability for the three months post stroke.
The study was on a small group of 45. Their age and location was not revealed in the preliminary presentation.
Their optimism was measured using the Life Orientation Test, a standard psychological tool.
Stroke severity and physical disability was measured through the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale. It assesses complications such as facial paralysis and inability to control leg and arm movements properly.
‘Our results suggest that optimistic people have a better disease outcome, thus boosting morale may be an ideal way to improve mental health and recovery after a stroke,’ Dr La said.
Post-stroke inflammation impairs the brain’s recovery after a stroke.
The participants had levels of inflammatory markers interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) and C-reactive protein (CRP) measured.
As optimism levels increased, inflammatory markers reduced. IL-6 and CRP fell as optimism levels climbed – but TNFα, another crucial response to injury that can sometimes cause problems long term, did not change.
The scientists said understanding how these optimism relates to stroke may pave the way for recovery strategies.
Optimism has been linked with lower inflammation levels and improved health outcomes among people with medical conditions, including heart conditions.
However, no prior studies assessed if this association exists among stroke patients.
‘We know that inflammation can worsen stroke recovery,’ Dr. Ralph Sacco, chair of the department of neurology at the University of Miami Leonard Miller School of Medicine, told CNN.
He added: ‘There have been many other studies that have suggested that depression also is related to stroke recovery. So anything we can do to reduce depression [and] improve optimism, is likely to have an impact on reducing and improving stroke recovery.’
In the UK someone has a stroke every five minutes, a rate of 100,000 strokes every year according to Stroke Association. In the US, approximately 795,000 people have a stroke every year.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A STROKE?
There are two kinds of stroke.
Ischemic stroke – which accounts for 80 percent of strokes – occurs when there is a blockage in a blood vessel.
It’s caused by a blockage in an artery that supplies blood and oxygen to the brain, leading to damage or death of brain cells. If circulation isn’t restored quickly, brain damage can be permanent.
A blood clot blocks the artery, or fatty buildup called plaque. This blockage can appear at the neck or in the skull but start in the heart and travel through arteries.
Haemorrhagic stroke, which is more rare, occurs when a blood vessel bursts, flooding part of the brain with too much blood while depriving other areas of adequate blood supply.
It can be the result of an AVM, or arteriovenous malformation (an abnormal cluster of blood vessels), in the brain.
Age, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, family history, and history of a previous stroke or TIA are all risk factors for having a stroke.
SYMPTOMS OF A STROKE
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing or blurred vision in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Of the roughly three out of four people who survive a stroke, many will have life-long disabilities.
This includes difficulty walking, communicating, eating, and completing everyday tasks or chores.