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Optimism is linked to Lower Stroke Severity and Lower Inflammation after a Stroke

Optimistic stroke survivors had lower inflammation levels, reduced stroke severity and less initial physical disability after three months compared to less optimistic survivors, according to the findings of a study. Previous studies have associated optimism with improved health outcomes for other medical conditions, however, no studies previously assessed if this association exists among stroke patient.

Stroke survivors with high levels of optimism had lower inflammation levels, reduced stroke severity and less physical disability after three months, compared to those who are less optimistic, according to preliminary research presented at the Nursing Symposium of the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2020 in Los Angeles.

In a small study of 49 stroke survivors, researchers examined the relationship among optimism, inflammation, stroke severity and physical disability for three months after a stroke. Researchers said that understanding how these elements relate to or impact one another may provide a scientific framework to develop new strategies for stroke recovery.

Lead author Dr Yun-Ju Lai commented, "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.  Patients and their families should know the importance of a positive environment that could benefit the patient.  Mental health does affect recovery after a stroke."

Post-stroke inflammation is detrimental to the brain and impairs recovery. Optimism has been associated with lower inflammation levels and improved health outcomes among people with medical conditions, however, no prior studies assessed if this association exists among stroke patients.

This pilot study is a secondary analysis of data collected from a repository of neurological diseases. Outcomes included optimism levels from the revised Life Orientation Test, a standard psychological tool for measuring optimism; stroke severity evaluation through the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale, and levels of inflammatory markers -- interleukin-6, tumor necrosis factor alpha and C-reactive protein.  As optimism levels increased, stroke severity and the inflammatory markers decreased even after considering other possible variables. 

Dr. Ralph Sacco, Chair, Department of Neurology at the University of Miami Leonard Miller School of Medicine

"We know that inflammation can worsen stroke recovery.  There have been many other studies that have suggested that depression also is related to stroke recovery.  So anything we can do to reduce depression and improve optimism is likely to have an impact on reducing and improving stroke recovery."

See Ralph's video interview

Dr. Alan Rozanski, Cardiologist at Mount Sinai, on CNN

"This new study on stroke fits with older literature, which looked at optimism in terms of how people cope with illness.  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.  Optimism can be one of the important tools, if you will, to help people cope with illness and medical issues."

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