If you’ve had a stroke, blood pressure control is typically the coveted goal for preventing another stroke. But among those who do everything right—including taking prescribed medication, watching their diets and exercising regularly, about one-third of stroke patients still aren’t able to reach their desired blood pressure levels.

Could something else help? Perhaps so, according to recent research conducted at New York University School of Global Public Health.   

In a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, stroke survivors who said they believed they could protect themselves from a future stroke had a better chance of lowering their systolic (top number) blood pressure—a significant outcome because higher blood pressure is closely associated with increased risk for a future stroke.

Study details: Researchers asked 552 patients who were recovering from a mild/moderate stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), commonly known as a “ministroke,” if they believed the statement “I can protect myself against having a stroke.” The study participants’ blood pressure was measured at the start of the study and repeated one year later. Among the key findings…

  • More than 75% of the study participants said that they believed in their ability to protect themselves against another stroke.
  • Compared with patients who did not answer affirmatively, the positive group had a 5.6 mm Hg greater reduction in systolic blood pressure, which is considered clinically significant, after one year.
  • Women stroke survivors with positive beliefs about their future stroke risk were more likely than men to lower their blood pressure. Younger patients were more likely than older patients to lower their blood pressure.
  • Women who did not have a positive belief were found to have slightly higher blood pressure after one year than at the beginning of the study.

Why beliefs matter: Positive beliefs about one’s future health signal the presence of “self-efficacy” in an individual, which includes self-confidence and the motivation to follow stroke-management instructions by making necessary lifestyle changes, according to the researchers.

The findings also point to an effective risk-reduction management tool for doctors and patients. Based on the study, the researchers urge doctors to ask about a patient’s belief in his/her ability to prevent a future stroke with medication and lifestyle changes.

When patients are well-informed about the importance of blood pressure control and the lifestyle approaches that reduce their risk for a future stroke, positive thinking can unleash the self-efficacy and confidence needed to make the necessary changes, the researchers explained.

Takeaway: If you’ve had a stroke, this study offers a powerful new endorsement for positive thinking!

Source: The study “Positive Health Beliefs and Blood Pressure Reduction in the DESERVE Study” conducted by researchers at the New York University School of Global Public Health and published in Journal of the American Heart Association.