Don’t Fall for These Myths You’ve Probably Heard About Strokes

You know plenty about heart disease and lowering your cancer risk, but you may not be as familiar with strokes. WebMD notes a stroke, otherwise known as a “brain attack,” occurs when blood flow to the brain is cut off. This causes the oxygen-deprived brain cells to die, which can result in permanent damage or even death.

Strokes can be debilitating and deadly, so it’s important to have the facts straight. And these are the myths you probably believe, but shouldn’t.

1. You always know when you’ve had a stroke

Ministrokes can come and go very quickly. | kosmos111/iStock/Getty Images

In many cases, it’s pretty clear when you’re having a stroke. But there’s another type of this disease called a “ministroke” that you may not even realize is happening when it occurs.

Mayo Clinic explains a transient ischemic stroke causes blood flow to be temporarily blocked from the brain, which can lead to stroke-like symptoms for only a few minutes. It happens so quickly, in fact, that you can have one and not even realize it. Though these small strokes aren’t life-threatening on their own, they do serve as an early warning sign that you’re at risk for a more serious brain attack later on.

Next: Which gender has the higher stroke risk?

2. Men have strokes more frequently than women

Men are at higher risk for strokes. | iStock

You may think men have the higher stroke risk. But actually, more women have strokes than men, says the National Stroke Association. While stroke is the fifth leading cause of death for men, it’s the third for women. And there are about 55,000 more women who are struck with this disease each year than men.

Taking birth control pills, being pregnant, and suffering from migraines are just a few factors unique to women that can really increase stroke risk, too

Next: Not all strokes happen around the same age. 

3. Strokes only happen to the over-50 crowd

Nicole Briggs looks at a real human brain being displayed as part of new exhibition

Strokes can occur at any age. | Matt Cardy/Getty Images

It’s true your stroke risk increases as you age. The New York Times notes the vast majority of strokes strike in those who are over the age of 65. But this isn’t always the case, either. Anywhere from 10% to 15% of strokes affect those who are 45 years old or younger. And when the younger crowd visits a doctor about stroke-like symptoms, they often receive a misdiagnosis and improper treatment.

Next: Are there always signs a stroke is coming before it hits?

4. There are always warning signs beforehand

Not everyone experiences stroke symptoms. | David McNew/Getty Images

Some people experience symptoms before a stroke hits — but this isn’t true for everyone. WebMD says many signs, like numbness or weakness in the face, confusion, difficulty speaking, dizziness, and problems with balance can happen extremely suddenly.

For this reason, if you do experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek emergency help right away. Getting treatment as fast as possible is vital in reducing brain damage.

Next: When someone’s having a stroke, it’s usually clear to them and to others. 

5. It’s difficult to recognize the signs of stroke

Stroke (cerebrovascular accident)

If you are having a stroke, ther can be clear waring signs. |

When someone’s having a stroke, can you tell? In reality, unless it’s a ministroke, you usually can. Dr. Robert Felberg tells the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women that 75% of the time, just about anyone can recognize when a stroke is happening if they know the signs.

The best way to remember stroke symptoms is to utilize the acronym “FAST.” It stands for face, arm, speech, and time. Facial drooping, numbness in the arms, and strange speech patterns are all common signs.

Next: There’s a huge misconception about what strokes actually feel like.   

6. Most people experience pain when they have a stroke

young man massaging his nose and keeping eyes closed

Most strokes are painless.  |

Many people believe they’ll know they’re having a stroke if they have a sudden, explosive headache. But that’s usually not the case. CBS News reports strokes often cause no pain at all. There’s another condition known as subarachnoid hemorrhage that does cause a horrible headache due to bleeding within the brain. But this differs from a stroke entirely.

Next: Stroke and heart disease aren’t as related as you think. 

7. Strokes affect the heart just as much as the brain

Human Heart Anatomy Illustration. 3D render

Strokes can elevate blood pressure. |

While many unhealthy lifestyle choices can increase your heart attack and stroke risk, strokes and heart attacks are very dissimilar. Whether it’s a rupture or a blood clot, strokes always primarily affect the brain.

There is an interesting connection between strokes and the heart, however. ScienceDaily says if a stroke affects one specific area of the brain, then it can also cause damage to the heart muscles. And having a stroke can elevate your blood pressure for up to a week.

Next: You’ll be surprised to know strokes kill more people than these other common diseases. 

8. Diabetes and Alzheimer’s kill more people than strokes do

Male Diabetic Checking Blood Sugar

Believe it or not, more Americans die of strokes than diabetes.  |

The top 10 leading causes of death to those living in the U.S. shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Medical News Today notes heart disease and cancer lead the way, with chronic lower respiratory disease and accidents following close behind. And while you may also have great concerns over developing diabetes or Alzheimer’s, the odds of dying from a stroke are higher for the average American than they are for those two diseases. This is why it’s of the utmost importance to understand your stroke risk and take preventative measures.

 Next: Are strokes hereditary? 

9. Strokes don’t run in families

The risk for strokes can run in the family. | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

Believe it or not, your family history does impact your stroke risk, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And there are also several genetic disorders, like sickle cell disease, that can cause strokes to occur.

While you can’t choose what traits you inherit, you can choose your lifestyle. If you have a family history of strokes combined with unhealthy behaviors, like smoking, then your risk increases exponentially. You’ll significantly help your odds if you make decisions that are good for your brain and body.

Next: This over-the-counter med can help the heart, but it doesn’t always help the brain.

10. Aspirin is always helpful in stroke prevention

Aspirin bottle with tablets

Aspirin can help prevent strokes, but don’t take it if you experience symptoms. | Source: iStock

Those who are at a high risk of having a heart attack are often advised to take a daily low dosage of aspirin. And because aspirin thins the blood, it makes sense to believe this med can also help with strokes. While some doctors may recommend it for stroke prevention, the American Heart Association notes it’s not advised to take aspirin if you’re experiencing symptoms.

So, why be wary of aspirin? Some strokes are caused by ruptured blood vessels and not blood clots. If you take aspirin while a blood vessel is rupturing, you can make the bleeding much worse.

Next: Can you do anything to prevent a stroke? 

11. Strokes just happen, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent them

Healthy Lifestyle Diet

A healthy diet can reduce your risk. | Ltd

It may seem like strokes come from out of nowhere, but in reality, there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself. The National Stroke Association says those who smoke have double the risk compared to those who don’t engage. And your diet and physical activity level also play a huge role. Make sure you’re limiting your sugar intake and getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, like brisk walking, per week.

Next: You should also know your treatment options in the event you have a stroke. 

12. There’s no way to treat a stroke before it occurs

If you get to a hospital early enough, doctors may be able to prevent a stroke. | iStock

The good news is if you do have stroke symptoms, there are treatment options available. Dr. Igor Rybinnik tells Everyday Health that blood clots can be treated before they cause a full-blown stroke.

The earlier you get to a hospital, the better. Doctors can give you a medication to bust the clot if you get there within four and a half hours of your first stroke symptoms. This can help reverse some of the damage that a stroke can cause, or in some cases, it can prevent it from happening in the first place.

Next: This is actually how long you can expect your stroke recovery to take. 

13. Recovering from a stroke is a quick process

Dalmatian Therapy dog

Recovery is a long process. | China Photos/Getty Images

If you have a stroke, odds are you may feel the effects for quite some time afterward. The National Stroke Association says recovery is an ongoing process for many survivors. This may involve relearning physical skills as a result of brain damage, or adapting to new limitations brought on by the attack.

It’s also normal to feel very emotional after a stroke. You may feel depressed or anxious as a result, and long-term rehabilitation may make these feelings worse. It’s all normal, so taking one day at a time is key in recovery.

Next: Not everyone experiences this as a result of a stroke.

14. A stroke is definitely paralyzing

Strokes don’t always cause paralysis. | iStock

You’ve heard paralysis is one of the most common effects of a stroke — and maybe it’s what you fear most. But having a stroke doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to experience total paralysis. Healthmonitor says numbness and tingling are much more common side effects. And even if a stroke does cause some paralysis, it’s typically one side of the body that stops working, not everything.

Next: Do your friends and family know the signs to look out for?

15. Most people know at least one warning sign to look out for

Man Sitting On Bed With Head In Hands

It’s important to look for warning signs. |

You may be well aware of what a stroke looks like — but it turns out your loved ones may not know. Today reports a study shows up to 75% of Americans under the age of 45 don’t know the symptoms. And because they’re unaware, many of them would also wait out signs like weakness, numbness, and difficulty seeing, which can have deadly consequences. Make sure those close to you know the signs — even if they’re young — so they can identify the condition in themselves or others.

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