Most doctors would agree that the best treatment for a stroke is to prevent one from happening. Although there are certain risk factors that you can’t change, such as age, race, gender, or family history, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of stroke. In fact, scientists at the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Strokes estimate that up to 80 percent of all strokes in the US could be eliminated with careful attention to the reduction of risk factors and the inclusion of treatments now available. They’ve developed a self-scoring risk assessment you can take to determine where you’re at now in your risk for stroke. We’ll highlight the top three areas you can address to reduce your risk for stroke:
Manage blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol properly.
Hypertension (i.e., high blood pressure) is the biggest risk factor for stroke, but high cholesterol can contribute to the arteries becoming clogged. The narrowing of arteries due to fatty deposits is called atherosclerosis, and it occurs when there’s too much LDL cholesterol. Additionally, scientists say that diabetes can age a person up to 15 years, and this contributes to the weakening of the brain’s blood vessels. Managing these three areas means doing what you know you should be doing: eating healthfully, including lots of vegetables, good fats like olive oil, and lean proteins, as well as exercising regularly and handling stress in a positive way. Harvard Health Watch also recommends reducing alcohol consumption to one drink per day, remembering that one drink equals a 12 ounces beer, 5 ounces wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. Red wine, which has resveratrol, supposedly offers protection to the brain and heart.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that cigarette smoking doubles your risk of ischemic stroke (where a blocked artery prevents blood flow to the brain) and quadruples your risk of hemorrhagic stroke (where a blood vessel in the brain bursts). Smoking has been linked to a buildup of fat in the carotid artery, the primary neck artery to supply blood to the brain, and it thickens the blood, making it clot more readily.
Adhere to prescribed treatment if you have a history of heart disease, previous strokes, or TIAs.
Heart disease can be linked to stroke if there is atrial fibrillation or an irregularity in the heartbeat, and research shows that for 1 out of 4 stroke patients over the age of 80, atrial fibrillation is a culprit. Properly treating this heartbeat irregularity can reduce stroke risk. In addition, having had a previous stroke or mini-strokes called transient ischemic attacks (or TIAs) puts you at greater risk for another stroke. Though symptoms of TIAs may go away quickly, they could be a warning sign of a major stroke that is coming.
Reducing your risk of stroke does require lifestyle changes which are never easy. Your physician can help make recommendations that are personalized for you and your health situation. Doctorpedia reminds you that you are in control of your health choices, so be informed and take good action!
Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.