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Should You Give Up Coffee, Sex and Blowing Your Nose?

Coffee Yes, if you take too seriously the results of a recent study from neurologists in the Netherlands.

The doctors studied 250 of their patients who had suffered a “brain aneurysm” — a weakened or burst blood vessel in the brain that can cause a stroke. (Strokes have two causes: a clogged artery, which accounts for 83% of strokes; or a burst blood vessel, which accounts for 17%.)

Looking for factors that triggered the aneurysms, they found eight that were mainly responsible. By percentage of aneurysms caused, they ranked:

Coffee: 10.6%
Vigorous exercise: 7.9%
Nose blowing: 5.4%
Sex: 4.3%
Drinking cola: 3.5%
Being startled: 2.7%
Being angry: 1.3%

“All of these factors increase the risk of a burst blood vessel by suddenly increasing blood pressure,” said the researchers.

Here’s the good and bad news about this study. The bad news: The weakened vessel was going to burst anyway. It was just a matter of time. The good news: Ignore this study! It’s a classic example of scientific information providing plenty of fuel for our neuroses about health — but little common sense.

Sex is good for you. Exercise is good for you. Coffee in moderation is good for you. Even getting angry now and then is good for you, if it feels good and doesn’t hurt anyone. The problem in this study was frail blood vessels — not the sudden rise in blood pressure that caused them to burst; and not the factors that caused blood pressure to rise.

Bottom line: Don’t let statistics drive you crazy. (Hmm… maybe crazy-making statistics are another risk factor for aneurysms…)


“Trigger factors and their attributable risk for rupture of intracranial aneurysms: a case-crossover study.” Stroke. 2011 Jul;42(7):1878-82. Epub 2011 May 5. Vlak MH, Rinkel GJ, Greebe P, van der Bom JG, Algra A.

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