How Spirituality Impacts Stroke and Recovery

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. 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 around the world from trying to gather data to figure out whether there is a link between spirituality and serious illnesses such as stroke.

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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 than 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. A study published in 2018 found that spirituality may provide some protection. The study reported that religious and spiritual coping was associated with a lower risk of hypertension in African American women, particularly when they reported instances of high stress.

Spirituality and Stroke Recovery

Spirituality is widely believed to provide a sense of peace and comfort. In a study published in the American Heart Association's journal, Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, 200 stroke survivors in Italy and their caregivers were given questionnaires over a period of two years. It found that stroke survivors who scored above average in spirituality reported higher quality of life, even when their caregivers had symptoms of depression.

Similarly, a research study published in the Journal of Religion and Health in 2020 found that spirituality improved stroke patients' quality of life by increasing motivation for self-care and improving their ability to adapt to challenges.

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. In the 2020 study from the American Heart Association's journal, caregivers who rated themselves as having above-average spirituality reported better quality of life, both mentally and physically.

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 long 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.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Giaquinto S, Sarno S, Dall'armi V, Spiridigliozzi C. Religious and spiritual beliefs in stroke rehabilitation. Clin Exp Hypertens. 2010;32(6):329-34. doi:10.3109/10641960903443566

  2. Morgenstern LB, Sánchez BN, Skolarus LE, et al. Fatalism, optimism, spirituality, depressive symptoms, and stroke outcome: a population-based analysis. Stroke. 2011;42(12):3518-23. doi:10.1161/STROKEAHA.111.625491

  3. Cozier Y, Yu J, Wise L et al. Religious and Spiritual Coping and Risk of Incident Hypertension in the Black Women's Health StudyAnnals of Behavioral Medicine. 2018;52(12):989-998. doi:10.1093/abm/kay001

  4. Pucciarelli G, Vellone E, Bolgeo T et al. Role of Spirituality on the Association Between Depression and Quality of Life in Stroke Survivor–Care Partner DyadsCirculation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. 2020;13(6). doi:10.1161/circoutcomes.119.006129

  5. Azar N, Radfar M, Baghaei R. Spiritual Self-care in Stroke Survivors: A Qualitative StudyJ Relig Health. 2020. doi:10.1007/s10943-020-01030-7

Additional Reading

By Heidi Moawad, MD
Heidi Moawad is a neurologist and expert in the field of brain health and neurological disorders. Dr. Moawad regularly writes and edits health and career content for medical books and publications.