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So you think strokes only happen to older people? A doctor busts 7 such myths about strokes

Published on:26 August 2021, 07:00am IST
When it comes to the risk of a stroke, there are a lot of myths that must be cleared in order to raise awareness about the issue. A doctor does exactly that!
Dr (Lt Gen) CS Narayanan
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stroke
Busting myths about the risk of strokes. Images courtesy: Shutterstock
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There are a lot of misconceptions and myths around the risk of having a stroke. While the ailment should be taken with all seriousness, it is also important to consider the facts that prevail over this dreadful health issue, in order to better manage and prevent its occurrence.

Here are seven stroke-related myths to be careful of

1. Myth: Strokes only happen to elderly people

The fact is that the incidence of stroke does increase with age. However, 21 percent of strokes due to bleeding, and 16 percent of strokes due to clotting, occur in those under 45 years of age. People of all ages, including newborns and young children, are susceptible to having strokes. It’s pertinent to note that risk factors vary for different age groups.

2. Myth: Strokes are rare

When it comes to strokes, the gravity of the situation has no correlation with its rarity. Almost one-fourth of adults over 25 years of age, will have a stroke during their lifetime. Stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide, with around 5.5 million people succumbing to stroke every year. Strokes are also the leading cause of serious long-term disability.

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A stroke is, by no means, a rare event. Image courtesy: Shuttestock

3. Myth: Strokes are not preventable

The International Stroke Study examined risk factors governing strokes and found that 90 percent of strokes can be attributed to vascular risk factors. These factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. All these risk factors can be identified by regular health check-ups. When diagnosed, they can be mitigated with lifestyle modification, regular exercise, diet, and the use of appropriate medications. In fact, once a stroke occurs, medications are given to prevent the recurrence of similar symptoms.

4. Myth: Strokes cannot be treated

The vast majority of strokes are ischemic, which are caused by blood clots, and they can be treated effectively. If a person comes to the hospital within 4.5 hours of the onset of stroke symptoms, a clot-busting medication called tissue plasminogen activator can be given, which may prevent further worsening of the condition. This medicine could also possibly reverse damage to brain cells caused by blood clots.

As per data from over 58,000 patients, it was found that each 15-minute reduction in the time to initiate clot-busting treatment, increased the odds of walking independently. Therefore time is of utmost importance when you develop symptoms of a stroke. Every minute in which a stroke due to blood clots is left untreated, one loses 1.9 million brain cells and 13.8 billion connections between these cells.

5. Myth: All strokes are caused by blood clots

While around 80 per cent of strokes are caused by blood clots, about 20 per cent are caused by rupture of blood vessels, leading to bleeding in the brain. Strokes due to blood clots can form in the brain itself, and obstruct blood flow locally. More commonly, these form in the blood vessels in the neck or in the heart.

Strokes due to rupture of blood vessels are caused by their dislodgement, causing the blood vessels connecting to the brain to clog. It is therefore important to do a CT scan, or MRI of the brain before administering clot-busting medication. It is also important to do an investigation, to rule out the heart as a source for the clots. This can happen if the heart is beating irregularly. or is not contracting adequately.

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Not all strokes are caused by blood clots. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

6. Myth: If the symptoms of stroke abate in a few minutes or hours, nothing more needs to be done

If the symptoms of a stroke are transient and improve rapidly, the person remains at risk for a recurrent stroke, which can be more severe and devastating. This is called a ‘Transient Ischemic Attack’ (TIA). In such a case, the risk is high for the next few days to weeks. This calls for a detailed evaluation to assess the risk of recurrence, and appropriate measures instituted to prevent the same.

7. Myth: Pain is a common symptom of stroke

Headache or pain is quite rare, as a presenting symptom of strokes due to blood clots. Headache can herald strokes due to bleeding in the brain, which is much less common. It is therefore important to be aware of the symptoms of stroke, which can be quite subtle at times. These include sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes, double vision, uneven smile or weakness on one side of the face, inability to raise both arms evenly, and slurred speech or difficulty repeating simple phrases.

These have been summarized with the acronym ‘BE-FAST’ (balance, eye, face, arm, speech, and time). In the event that someone has any of these symptoms, they should be rushed to the nearest hospital with stroke care specialists. This will ensure that treatment is administered at the earliest, as any delay will mean further loss of brain cells and possible life-long disability.

So, be mindful of these myths around stroke, and take due measures to lead healthier lives.

Dr (Lt Gen) CS Narayanan Dr (Lt Gen) CS Narayanan

Dr (Lt Gen) CS Narayanan is a renowned neurologist.