Wellness Matters

6 Steps to Stay Stroke Free

May 23, 2016

Stroke is what happens when blood stops circulating to certain regions of the brain. It is the fifth leading killer in the United States and can be devastating for an individual and their family. If a stroke is not fatal, it can cause disabilities that make life difficult. This impacts a family by creating additional medical expenses and leaving the stroke victim with little independence, requiring constant care. That is why we have to take stroke prevention seriously.

Although there are risk factors for stroke that cannot be controlled, such as age, gender, race and family history, there are steps that everyone can can take to decrease their chances of having a stroke. The major risk factors for stroke are:
  • Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) – This is the the biggest risk factor for having a stroke. High blood pressure can make a person four times more likely to have a stroke before the age of 80. If you have high blood pressure, discuss a strategy with your doctor to bring your blood pressure down to appropriate levels. Proven ways to reduce risk this factor: lose weight, exercise more, eat right and take medications if needed.
  • Smoking – Smoking increases your chances of having a stroke. Cigarette smoke has been linked to the build-up of plaques in the carotid artery, which is the main supplier of blood to the brain. Carotid artery blockage is one of the leading causes of stroke. Nicotine, the addictive ingredient in cigarettes, raises your blood pressure. Carbon monoxide from the smoke will decrease oxygen levels in your brain. Other ingredients in cigarette smoke make your blood thicker, which can lead to dangerous blood clots. Proven way to reduce this risk factor: stop smoking.

  • Diabetes – When it comes to stoke and heart health, diabetes is like adding 15 years to your age. Besides affecting your body’s ability to process sugar, diabetes negatively changes your blood vessels. If your glucose levels are high during a stroke, there could be greater damage to your brain. Proven way to reduce this risk factor: lose weight, exercise more, eat right and manage your diabetes.
  • Heart disease – Heart disorders can cause blood clots that may break loose and block vessels to the brain. Atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat, is responsible for 25 percent of strokes in people over 80. An irregular beat can cause the blood to slow down and pool, leading to clotting. This clot can block the carotid artery and other brain vessels, stopping blood from flowing to the brain. Proven way to reduce this risk factor: work with your doctor to create a treatment plan.
  • High Cholesterol – Cholesterol can build up inside blood vessels. This leads to atherosclerosis, which causes blood vessels to become narrow and easy to block. When these vessels become blocked, it can lead to either a heart attack or stroke. Proven way to reduce this risk factor: eat heart healthy foods, exercise more, and take medications if needed.
  • Obesity – Obesity and an inactive lifestyle are closely tied to the above mentioned hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Being obese makes you three times as likely to have a stroke. Proven way to reduce this risk factor: a healthy eating and exercise plan.
The most important thing you own is your brain. Stroke can cause brain damage, disability and even death. Take control of your future and eliminate as many risk factors for stroke as possible so you can enjoy a happy and independent life.

About the Author

Jindong Xu, MD, PhD is a Vascular Neurologist with Guilford Neurologic Associates


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