How Spirituality Impacts Stroke

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Faith and spirituality are undeniably among the most elusive things to measure objectively. Have you ever tried to figure out who is more religious among people you know? You can't really 'measure' something like that- or can you?

Age-old questions looking for whether there is a relationship between spirituality and health continue to echo with each generation. Many people have a ‘gut feeling’ that faith and health might be related, but we really don’t know.

Although the association between faith and serious medical problems is almost impossible to define with certainty, that hasn't stopped scientists from all over the world from trying to gather data to figure out whether there is a link between spirituality and serious illnesses such as stroke.

Stroke, in particular, produces a number of devastating effects manifested throughout the body. The physical effects of a stroke are caused by a relatively small injury inside the brain. Because of the hidden nature of a stroke injury, which lies deep within the brain, myths regarding stroke have circulated for years. Religion, lack of faith and even bad luck or punishments are among the many stroke myths that are widely believed.

Surprisingly, scientific evidence linking spirituality with stroke recovery and stroke recurrence actually point to a real link between faith and stroke, suggesting that faith has at least some positive influence on stroke recovery and on the prevention of stroke recurrence.

How Does Spirituality affect Stroke?

Spirituality is widely known to provide a sense of peace and comfort. In a study published in the journal Stroke, 132 patients who had experienced a stroke were assessed with respect to religiousness, physical health, and mental health. The results demonstrated that the strength of religious beliefs acted as a possible protective factor against emotional distress after a stroke.

Similarly, another research study from The University of Missouri-Columbia demonstrated that religiousness and spirituality have a positive effect on mental heath after a stroke, but did not demonstrate significant improved brain function or better physical recovery after a stroke as a result of spirituality, religion or faith.

Many other scientific research studies throughout the years have demonstrated that emotional stability can foster a better stroke recovery while stress can contribute to stroke and can even impede optimal recovery.

A Positive Outlook

Resilience and optimism have been linked to spirituality, faith, and religiousness. These characteristics have been associated with fewer stroke recurrences. Similarly, one study published in the December 2011 issue of the journal Stroke noted that depression and a sense of fatalism were found to be associated with increased stroke severity, more stroke recurrence and even increased rates of death after a stroke.

Stroke Risk Factors

Risk factors such as stress and hypertension are known to contribute to stroke over the long-term. And another scientific study, published in the October 2007 issue of Clinical and Experimental Hypertension suggested that spirituality may protect against hypertension or may protect against some of the risk factors that lead to hypertension, such as stress, anger and fear.

No Studies Imply that Faith Causes Stroke

While several well-constructed scientific studies have demonstrated some positive influence of spirituality, religiousness or faith on stroke, no studies have suggested that faith has any negative or harmful effects when it comes to stroke occurrence, stroke recovery, stroke severity or death after a stroke.

Religion is comforting and wonderful for some people and has been viewed with skepticism by others. There are numerous religions throughout the world, and it would be unusual if all of them produced the same effects when it comes to stroke. Whether you are religious or not, a sense of peace, serenity and optimism can help in stroke recovery.

Selected sources:

Can faith protect from emotional distress after stroke? Giaquinto S1, Spiridigliozzi C, Caracciolo B, Stroke, March 2007

Relationships among religiousness, spirituality, and health for individuals with stroke, Johnstone B1, Franklin KL, Yoon DP, Burris J, Shigaki C, Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, December 2008

Fatalism, optimism, spirituality, depressive symptoms, and stroke outcome: a population-based analysis, Morgenstern LB1, Sánchez BN, Skolarus LE, Garcia N, Risser JM, Wing JJ, Smith MA, Zahuranec DB, Lisabeth LD, Stroke, December 2011

Possible influence of spiritual and religious beliefs on hypertension, Giaquinto S, Spiridigliozzi C, Clinical and Experimental Hypertension, October 2007

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