MANILA, Philippines - How often have you heard these medical lore?
? Don?t have vigorous sex after you?ve had a stroke.
? If you?re bipolar, it?s better not to take medication and just take care of your health.
? Even if it?s doctor-prescribed, if you can manage it, take as little medication as necessary because medication is a sign of weakness.
? Should a stroke render you paralyzed on one side of your body, teach your other side to relearn lost motor skills.
They?re probably well-meaning advice, but according to doctors who attended the First Tripartite Convention of the Association of Neurology and NeuroRehabilitation held in Cebu City late last year, they?re also myths that inhibit our well-being. Here?s why:
Popular lore No. 1. It is best not to have vigorous sex after a stroke. But if you do, then make love only with your wife because studies have shown that strokes are more likely with your mistress than your legal partner.
Wrong. These myths are a result of people confusing a heart attack with a stroke, which is a ?brain attack.? So you need not worry about another stroke during or after sex, though it may not be such a bad idea to make love only with your spouse.
This suggestion is NOT based on wanting to avoid another stroke but on my clinical experience that this is the way to greater intimacy between couples. I also imagine that any prohibition based on fear will not merit you any karmic points. What Supreme Being today would reward behavior borne out of fear instead of out of love?
Popular lore No. 2. Bipolar folk (manic depressive) don?t need to take medication. All they need to do is make sure they take care of themselves, eat right, get enough sleep and exercise, and keep away from bad habits including drugs, alcohol, and ?unsavory? characters. Psychotropic medication is a sign of weakness. Discipline yourself, place your faith in the Lord, and all will be well.
Wrong. All the above are good things, of course, but they cannot stop a person from being hypo-manic, manic and/or depressed from time to time. You need mood stabilizers to do that. Lithium and/or anticonvulsants and/or atypical antipsychotics have been found to be the most effective at the moment.
Popular lore No. 3. Even if your neurologist/ psychiatrist prescribes medication which you?ve finally accepted as necessary, it is best to take as little as possible. Depending on medication is a sign of weakness.
Wrong. Lessening your medication on your own is a sign of stupidity, not weakness. Under these circumstances, undermedication (not taking enough) could be as bad as overmedication (taking too much), and may result in what you fear most in the first place.
Why? Because taking too little medication will not be sufficient to make you better. And, if any medication will not be useful anyway, why take it in the first place?
Popular lore No. 4. If, after a stroke, your right hand cannot grasp a pencil, it is best to teach yourself to use your left hand asap. Difficult as it is to accept the truth, moving on and accepting your limitations is an important step to better health.
Wrong. Studies in neuroscience have shown that forcing yourself to use your (disabled) right hand will lead to new connections in your brain and, in time, you will be able to write with this appendage once more. The same goes for the inability to speak after a stroke. Yes, you can write things down initially in order to communicate, but only if you force yourself to speak will you be able to recover this facility. Again, with constant use, your brain will replace with new ones the former connections that made speech possible.
So try chatting away no matter how skeptics may cringe at your initial attempts. It is far better that they are uncomfortable rather than you accepting your speech loss without a fight, especially since victory is almost guaranteed. Some even buy karaoke machines and learn to hum at first, and then eventually sing out the words. Because, after all, what is speech but singing without as big a range in tone, volume and rhythm?
These four popular lore are just a few of the hundreds of medical myths and beliefs that can damage our health. By ignoring professional advice and putting greater credence on stories heard from neighbors and friends, we may be putting our lives at risk.
The lesson? The next time you hear medical advice from someone who isn?t a medical professional, stop and ask yourself if it makes sense. Better yet, ask someone who has devoted years of study to the subject and actually knows something about it. You may be saving yourself a great deal of pain.
Margarita Holmes is a clinical psychologist and author of 17 books. Visit her website at margaritaholmes.com