A Stroke is More Likely in Winter

A stroke is a medical event that is known to result from the build up of long standing risk factors. Yet, there appears to be a slight increase in stroke occurrence during the autumn and winter months. The reasons for this bump in stroke incidence is not completely clear, but researchers have pointed to some potential factors that may explain this somewhat surprising observation.

Seasonal Stroke

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

Interestingly, another research study showed the absence of a seasonal stroke trend in India, with authors reporting that stroke incidence did not change depending on the month or season of the year. This may be related to the climate in India, a country with warmer winters than the other nations that did have a seasonal stroke spike. It makes sense that people living in India do not experience the same winter effects that could be related to factors such as cold temperature, winter infections, staying indoors and the lack of physical activity characteristic of the cold winter months in the chillier parts of the world.

Possible Reasons For Seasonal Strokes

It appears that many of causes that are believed to the increase the incidence of strokes during colder months are preventable. These include an increased frequency of infections, lack of sunlight, depression, an indoor lifestyle and lack of exercise.

Infection

Research has shown that some infections may increase the risk of stroke- especially serious infections. In general, infections increase during the cold winter months, the same months that see a spike in stroke occurrence.

Infection prevention may help decrease your risk of stroke. There are a number of ways you can decrease your chances of catching an infection.

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. 

One of the ways to reduce infection includes making sure recommended immunizations are up to date. For most adults, a flu vaccine has been shown to decrease infection and hospitalization. A few research articles have shown that adults who receive flu vaccinations may 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 contribute to 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 has been shown to improve with proper treatment. The first step is recognition. For some people, coping mechanisms can help reduce winter depression.

However, many individuals may need interventions such as counseling and/or medication for depression.

Lack of Sunlight

Lack of sunlight contributes to depression, and possibly to stroke. Depending on the climate where you live, the most effective way to get more sunlight may be 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.

A Word From Verywell

The mild seasonal increase in stroke incidence is somewhat surprising. The good news is there are ways you can take action to reduce your risk of stroke.

Maintaining physical activity throughout the autumn and winter months, getting medical attention for symptoms of depression, trying to get sunlight exposure and taking steps to avoid infection can all play a role in reducing your risk of having a stroke.

Of course, paying attention to stroke risk factors and prevention is important all year round for everyone, even if you live in a warm climate.

Further Reading

Seasonal and Monthly variation in stroke and its subtypes-10 Year Hospital-Based Study, Bahonar A, Khosravi A, Khorvash F, Maracy M, Saadatnia M, Mater Sociomed. 2017 Jun;29(2):119-123.

Seasonality of stroke in Finland, Sipilä JO, Ruuskanen JO, Kauko T, Rautava P, Kytö V, Ann Med. 2017 Jun;49(4):310-318.

The effect of infections and vaccinations on stroke risk, Grau AJ, Marquardt L, Lichy C, Expert Rev Neurother. 2006 Feb;6(2):175-83.

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