How Spirituality Impacts Stroke

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Faith and spirituality are undeniably among the most elusive things to measure objectively.

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.

Surprisingly, scientific evidence linking spirituality with stroke recovery and stroke recurrence actually point to a weak, but 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.

The Impact of Having A Positive Outlook On Stroke Risk

Resilience and optimism have been linked to spirituality, faith, and religiousness. These characteristics have been associated with fewer stroke recurrences. A research 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.

These results do not however, prove that spirituality is the reason for decreased stroke, but rather that a positive attitude can decrease the risk of stroke.

And, while spirituality is one of the determinants of a positive attitude, it is not the only determinant.

Stroke Risk Factors May Be Tied To Spirituality

Risk factors such as stress and hypertension are known to contribute to stroke over the long-term. And scientific study, published in the 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.

Spirituality and Stroke Recovery

Spirituality is widely believed 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.

Caregivers' Spirituality and Stroke

Caregivers often take on a substantial burden after a stroke. Caregivers who rate themselves as having a spiritual attitude feel that taking care of their loved one who is recovering from a stroke is less of a burden than caregivers who rate themselves as less spiritual do.

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.

A Word From Verywell

It is difficult to determine whether a factor such as spirituality can impact stroke outcome or stroke recovery. Religion is comforting for many 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.

It does appear that log term effects of spirituality can improve a person's outlook, potentially reducing the severity of stress related medical conditions, such as stroke and some of the risk factors that lead to stroke. Evidence suggests that spirituality can make it easier to cope with the physical and cognitive consequences of a stroke, as well as with any other illness. But there is not a stronger link between spirituality and stroke than there is between spirituality and any other medical condition.

Whether you are religious or not, a sense of peace, serenity and optimism can help in stroke recovery.

Selected sources:

Religious and spiritual beliefs in stroke rehabilitation, Giaquinto S, Sarno S, Dall'Armi V, Spiridigliozzi C, Clin Exp Hypertens. 2010;32(6):329-34.

The relationship between the spiritual attitude of the family caregivers of older patients with stroke and their burden, Torabi Chafjiri R, Navabi N, Shamsalinia A, Ghaffari F, Clin Interv Aging. 2017 Mar 1;12:453-458.

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