10 Ways to Slash Stroke Risk

Preventive Service, Stroke Steward Health Care

Did you know every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke and every four minutes a person dies of stroke? Stroke kills almost 140,000 Americans each year and leaves many more disabled.

“Stroke happens when an obstruction, such as a blood clot, or a buildup of plaque interrupts blood flow to the brain,” explains Allison Kaplan, MD a Steward Health Care and Steward Medical Group primary care physician.  “The obstruction deprives the brain of blood and oxygen, destroying valuable nerve cells in the affected area within minutes. The resulting damage can lead to significant disability, including paralysis, speech problems and emotional difficulties.”

Some risk factors, such as getting older and being male, can’t be changed. But studies have found 10 risk factors that can—and together, they account for 90 percent of stroke risk. Here are the details:

  1. High blood pressure. Stroke risk is four to six times higher in those with hypertension. One in three adults has high blood pressure. Get yours checked regularly. Your primary care physician can help you monitor and treat high blood pressure.
  2. Diabetes. High blood sugar damages blood vessels in the brain. People with diabetes have triple the stroke risk of those without the disease. Work with your doctor to manage your blood glucose.
  3. Heart disease. A misshapen heart or irregular heartbeat could contribute to stroke. To treat your condition, your doctor might recommend surgery or medication.
  4. Abnormal cholesterol. High levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol and low levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol clog arteries. Have yours checked at least once every five years.
  5. Waist-to-hip ratio. Being overweight contributes to all four of the previous risk factors. To maintain a healthy weight, balance the number of calories you eat with your physical activity level.
  6. Unhealthy diet. Study participants who ate a Mediterranean diet—rich in fish and fruits—had the lowest stroke risk. Load up on fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  7. Not exercising. Working out keeps your blood flowing and your heart strong. Aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Even 10 minutes offers health benefits.
  8. Smoking. All forms of tobacco can cause blockages in the artery leading to the brain. Nicotine also raises blood pressure and thickens the blood. Kick the habit and your stroke risk drops immediately.
  9. Drinking alcohol. Binge drinking thins blood, increasing bleeding risk. Limit alcohol to one drink per day for women or two for men.
  10. Stress. Constant psychological pressure may damage artery walls. To calm down, try positive self-talk. Don’t think, “I can’t do this.” Instead, tell yourself, “I’ll do the best I can.”

Suspect a stroke?  Remember: Time lost is brain lost!

Symptoms of stroke can be difficult to recognize because they vary depending on the area of the brain that is affected. The following acronym – FAST − can help you spot a stroke in yourself or someone else and facilitate immediate medical intervention:

  • Face: Ask the person to smile. Does the face look uneven?
  • Arm: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift down?
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase, such as “The sky is blue.” Does their speech sound strange, or are they unable to understand you?
  • Time: If you observe any of these signs of stroke, call 911.

If you suspect a stroke, call 911 immediately! Do not wait to see if symptoms go away on their own or for an appointment with your primary care provider. The faster you can be evaluated and assessed; the faster appropriate treatment can begin.

To find a doctor or schedule an appointment, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.

*Source, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov