Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States suffers a stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Despite this high rate, stroke continues to be misunderstood by many Americans.
And these misconceptions about stroke have deep consequences. Recognizing the symptoms of stroke, understanding the urgency of stroke treatment, and knowing your risk of stroke can save your life or the lives of your loved ones.
Believing these three prevailing myths about stroke can endanger your life or worsen the outcome of a potential stroke, according to Carolyn Brockington, MD, a neurologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Myth: Stroke does not happen to young people.
The typical image of a stroke patient is white-haired with wrinkled hands, and it’s not totally invalid: 66 percent of stroke patients are 65 years or older, according to the CDC. Stroke risk does increase with age.
But that leaves another 34 percent of stroke patients below the age of 65. “The truth is that strokes can occur to anyone, at any age,” says Dr. Brockington.
In fact, strokes among younger adults are on the rise. Between 1995 and 2010, stroke incidence decreased among people over the age of 45, but increased in people between the ages of 15 and 44, according to a 2013 study in the journal Stroke. Learn more about why stroke is increasing among young adults.
Myth: There is no treatment for stroke.
Strokes can cause lasting damage or even be fatal, but advances in treatment and rehabilitation options means stroke is very treatable. Patients receive targeted treatment both when they arrive at the ER and afterward to promote recovery, according to Dr. Brockington.
“Coming in right away is key,” says Dr. Brockington. “Doctors are going to be able to determine which treatment you’re eligible for.”
The kind of stroke treatment you can receive depends on many different factors, such as your age, the type of stroke you had, and how many minutes or hours have passed since the stroke started.
For example, tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is the first line of treatment against ischemic strokes, but it is most effective if administered within three hours of stroke onset.
Myth: You can’t recover from stroke.
In the past, having a stroke meant living with permanent damaging effects like difficulty walking, changes in personality, and loss of facial expression. While this is possible, improved therapies have allowed more stroke patients to recover and in some cases get back to their previous lives.
Of course, your recovery from stroke can be dependent on how quickly you seek treatment. Doctors refer to this as “time is brain.” The longer your stroke goes untreated, the more brain cells are damaged, and the more challenging the recovery can be.
When treatment is prompt, a more complete recovery from stroke is more likely. “People can return to their lives,” says Dr. Brockington. “They can go back to work, go back to having fun, [and] go on vacations.”