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Stroke Myths: Advice from doctors--what they wish you knew

6 deadly mistakes—and how you can avoid them

Stroke MythsThink you’ve heard it all about stroke? What if one happened to you? Would you really know what to do?

Stroke doctors see misconceptions—and their devastating repercussions—all the time. We asked three what they most wanted you to know. Here are their brain-saving tips—not from a journalist, not from a public service announcement, but straight from the doctors on the front lines.


"I'll wait and see if it goes away."

People who have a stroke often put off coming to the hospital, waiting to see if their symptoms go away. Sometimes my patients say, “I figured I’d give it time to pass because I didn’t want to be embarrassed by coming to the ER if everything was really fine.” But it turns out, something was seriously wrong.

Waiting is one of the worst things a stroke patient can do. Time is a major factor when it comes to treatment options and recovery. —Dr. Porter


“It’s late. I’ll see about it tomorrow.”

Generally, there’s at most an eight-hour window for stroke treatment, but effectiveness lessens as time passes. With every additional minute, more brain cells die or are damaged.

Stroke MythsProviding care within the first three hours of a stroke is ideal (and sooner is always better, even within those three hours). During this time frame, a drug given through an IV can dissolve the blood clot causing the stroke.

There are additional drug treatment options from three to six hours, including dissolving the clot with drugs delivered directly to the brain vessel by way of a catheter. Noninvasive actions are our first choice, but if those aren’t effective or are no longer an option, we can also mechanically remove a clot through a catheter up to eight hours into the stroke. —Dr. Porter


"Nothing can be done about it anyway."

Another reason people may delay seeking help for a stroke is the impression that nothing can be done.

Stroke can be managed, though. To reiterate, it’s often a matter of how quickly you seek help. Even after the stroke, important medical treatment and rehabilitation measures can minimize the risk of having another one and improve long-term recovery. —Dr. Porter

“I don’t have high blood pressure, so who cares about my diet?”

It’s true that some of the major risk factors for having a stroke are high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. If you have these conditions, follow your doctor’s dietary recommendations to help decrease your stroke risk.

But even if you don’t have them, good nutrition can help you avoid developing them. So eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies and keep the saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium low. —Dr. Halpern


“I’ll drive my husband to the hospital.”

If you think someone is having a stroke, call 911 immediately. Do not drive the person to the hospital because that can waste precious time. Taking an ambulance provides the stroke patient with the fastest access to medical care because paramedics and EMTs can evaluate the person and relay information to the doctors while the patient is en route to the hospital. This allows treatment to begin sooner. —Dr. Hsia

“I’m too young to have a stroke.”

This misconception can lead to a delay in diagnosis and treatment, which can have devastating, even deadly, consequences. The truth is people of all ages have strokes.

While younger people may not have the traditional risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, elevated cholesterol or diabetes, other conditions can cause a stroke. For example, an undiagnosed heart condition can cause a blood clot, or a blood vessel can be torn while playing contact sports. Women need to be aware that hormonal changes during pregnancy and just after delivery can cause their blood to thicken, which is a stroke risk factor. Also, women who take birth-control pills are at increased risk of stroke, especially if they smoke. —Dr. Hsia

Stroke Myths




Article originally appeared in July/August 2009 issue. (Find previous issues here. Subscribe here.)
Last updated and/or approved: August 2009.


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