Did You Know That a Stroke is More Likely in Winter?

Have you ever heard the saying, 'bad things always come in 3s?' This refers to the strange phenomena of similar events occurring in waves and then seemingly declining in frequency. Health care professionals have noticed a trend when it comes to emergency room visits and hospitalizations for stroke. A number of scientific investigations have determined that strokes occur with a higher frequency on Mondays and a lower frequency on Sundays.

This observation was consistent in many countries throughout the world.

So, scientists around the world have also attempted to put casual observations regarding seasonal bursts of stroke to test to see if, in reality, strokes occur following a seasonal pattern.

Seasonal Stroke

Research studies from countries as diverse as Australia, the United States, and Germany all report that strokes do, indeed, happen more often in the winter months than in the summer months.

However, another research study in India did not show a seasonal stroke trend, with authors reporting that stroke incidence did not change depending on the month or season of the year. Given that India is a nation with warmer winters than the other countries, it makes sense that people living in India do not experience the same winter effects related to cold temperature, winter infections, staying indoors and lack of physical activity characteristic of the cold winter months in the chillier parts of the world.

The Good News About Seasonal Strokes

The good news about this seasonal variation in stroke frequency is that many of the contributing causes to the increase in stroke during colder months are preventable. These include increased infections, lack of sunlight, depression, an indoor lifestyle and lack of exercise.

Infection

Research has shown that infections increase the risk of stroke- especially serious infections. This is true for children, adults and the elderly. In general, infections increase during the cold winter months, the same months that see a spike in stroke occurrence.

Infection prevention can help decrease your risk of stroke. There are a number of ways you can decrease your chances of catching the kinds of infections that contribute to stroke. These include thorough hand washing and careful attention to avoid germs when touching objects or people that may carry germs. You could consider carrying sanitizer or hand wipes when shopping or at work to avoid touching germ-infested shopping carts, objects, handles, tables etc.  An important guard against infection includes washing your food before cooking and eating.

One of the effective ways to reduce infection includes making sure recommended immunizations are up to date. For most adults, a flu vaccine has been shown to significantly decrease infection and hospitalization.

Numerous research articles have shown that adults who receive flu vaccinations also decrease their risk of stroke.

Indoor Lifestyle and Lack of Exercise

Getting outside or at least out of cooped up spaces can help protect you from exposure to germs that can cause infection. Paying extra attention to increasing your physical activity in the winter in important because exercise is a valuable tool for fighting stroke.

Depression

Lack of sunlight, lack of physical activity and inability to go outdoors have all been proven to contribute to depression, which, in turn, has been proven to contribute to stroke.

Depression is a medical condition that improves with proper treatment. The first step is recognition. For some people, coping mechanisms can help eliminate or at least reduce winter depression. However, many individuals do better with counseling and/or medication for depression. Some people find that support groups can help overcome depression.

Lack of Sunlight

Lack of sunlight contributes to depression and possibly to stroke. The most effective way to get more sunlight is, obviously, to go on vacation. However, this is not a realistic option for most people. Lamps designed for seasonal affective disorder emit light that can help reduce the symptoms of winter depression.

Seasonal stroke is a real thing. The good news is there are ways you can take action to reduce your risk of winter-induced stroke.

Sources:

Seasonal differences and circadian variation in stroke occurrence and stroke subtypes, Raj K, Bhatia R, Prasad K, Srivastava MV, Vishnubhatla S, Singh MB, The journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disease, January 2015

Seasonal variation in stroke in the Hunter Region, Australia: a 5-year hospital-based study, 1995-2000, Wang Y, Levi CR, Attia JR, D'Este CA, Spratt N, Fisher J, Stroke, May 2003 

Stroke seasonality associations with subtype, etiology and laboratory results in the Ludwigshafen Stroke Study (LuSSt), Palm F, Dos Santos M, Urbanek C, Greulich M, Zimmer K, Safer A, Grau AJ, Becher H, European Journal of Epidemiology, May 2013

Seasonal variation in 30-day mortality after stroke: teaching versus nonteaching hospitals, Lichtman JH, Jones SB, Wang Y, Leifheit-Limson EC, Goldstein LB, Stroke, February 2013

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