Optimism Can Help You Recover from Stroke

Doctors have long known about the connection between mind and body. The expression “mind over matter” has merit. Your outlook can impact your health in many ways. For instance, in a study, people who believed they were less healthy were significantly more likely to die throughout the study than the people who thought themselves to be healthy — regardless of their actual physical health risks.
 
This has also been seen in heart health. In November, we wrote about the fact that people who were optimists were less likely to suffer from heart attacks, strokes or other problems. New research has found that not only are they less likely to have a stroke, but they are also more likely to recover after having a stroke. And, their outlook helps them in several ways.
 
Optimistic people were less physically and mentally impaired and showed lower inflammation three months later. “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,” said first author Dr. Yun-Ju Lai from The Univ. of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. 
 
This new study on stroke fits with older literature, which looked at optimism in terms of how people cope with illness,” said Dr. Alan Rozanski, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai. “Optimism can be one of the important tools, if you will, to help people cope with illness and medical issues.”
 
Stress is linked to inflammation. So, it might be that optimists were less likely to react with stress, releasing brain chemicals that lead to inflammation. Stress releases cortisol that, in turn, releases Interleukin-6. It has been linked to tissue damage, swelling and disease and was found in much lower quantities in optimistic stroke patients. Swelling in the brain is related to pain, vomiting and cognitive problems.
 
The study was small, looking at only 49 stroke patients. (https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/12/health/optimism-stroke-wellness/index.html) But the results were striking and substantial enough to merit further investigation. It also falls in line with previous studies. “There have been many other studies that have suggested that depression also is related to stroke recovery,” said Dr. Ralph Sacco, chair of neurology at the Univ. of Miami Leonard Miller School of Medicine. “So, anything we can do to reduce depression [and] improve optimism is likely to have an impact on reducing and improving stroke recovery.”
 
This might help future medical practices. It also underscores the importance of talking about your mood and mental health with the medical professionals caring for you after you experience a medical event. After we suffer a significant health problem is typical to feel depressed, and many of us feel like we should “soldier on.” However, speaking up for ourselves is essential, especially as mood is something your doctor can’t see as rapidly as other symptoms. You are your own best advocate, and your doctor may be able to treat your mental health as well as your body to speed your recovery.
February 13, 2020

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