Having a stroke is no laughing matter. But if you can stay optimistic about your recovery, a new study says you may be able to speed up your healing and reduce disability.
Higher levels of optimism in stroke survivors was associated with reduced stroke severity, less physical disability and lower levels of inflammation at the end of three months, according to preliminary research presented at the American Stroke Association's 2020 International Stroke Conference on Wednesday.
"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 Yun-Ju Lai, in a statement.
"Patients and their families should know the importance of a positive environment that could benefit the patient," said Lai, a registered nurse and postdoctoral fellow in the neurology department at the University 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, who has studied the role of positive thinking in disease prevention and recovery for years.
"There were studies that consistently found optimists tend to recover from a postoperative surgery or bypass surgery faster. They did tend to survive heart attacks better and faster as well," Rozanski said. "Optimism can be one of the important tools, if you will, to help people cope with illness and medical issues."
Role of inflammation
The small study of 49 stroke patients found stroke severity and levels of interleukin-6 decreased as optimism levels climbed. Interleukin-6 is part of the body's immediate response to injury, but chronic levels have been linked to tissue damage and disease. C-reactive protein, a sign of inflammation in the body, also fell as optimism rose.
However, tumor necrosis factor alpha, another key response to acute injury that can also cause problems long term, did not change, the study found.
While the role of optimism in heart disease has been well researched, this was the first study to show similar results for stroke patients, the authors said.
"We know that inflammation can worsen stroke recovery," said Dr. Ralph Sacco, who chairs the department of neurology at the University of Miami Leonard Miller School of Medicine, in a Skype interview.
"There have been many other studies that have suggested that depression also is related to stroke recovery," he said. "So anything we can do to reduce depression [and] improve optimism, is likely to have an impact on reducing and improving stroke recovery."