Prevent Stroke

The primary mission of the Hope After Stroke Foundation is to prevent stroke by conducting community education seminars and screenings and providing stroke survivors and their families with education and support.

There are 795,000 strokes in the United States each year, and experts say that at least 80 per cent of them are preventable. Think about that statistic if you ever buy a lottery ticket where your odds of winning the big pot can be as minuscule as 1 in 175,000,000. You have an 8 in 10 chance of avoiding stroke — if you take the right steps. Those are great odds that will work for you if you know the risk factors for stroke and adopt a lifestyle that mitigates their danger. Some risk factors are controllable, and others, unfortunately, are not. Let’s look at both.

Risk Factors You Control

Controlling some risk factors may be a matter of you making up your mind to change some of your everyday routines while others may require a form of medical intervention. Stroke is a preventable brain attack, but you must make steps to minimize your risk of stroke.  It is very important that you know and understand your risk factors. If you have questions about these risk factors, please consult your primary care physician as soon as possible. The most common modifiable risk factors are:

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): High blood pressure is the single most important risk factor of stroke. Elevated blood pressure promotes atherosclerosis (thickening of arterial walls) and puts added stress on blood vessel walls. Hypertension can go unnoticed because there may be no obvious symptoms. It is important to regularly check and control your blood pressure. A healthy reading is about 120/80. Readings consistently above 140/90 indicate your blood pressure is in the danger zone.

You can help keep your blood pressure in check by limiting your intake of sodium (which is found in abundance in many processed foods like cold cuts, canned soup and frozen dinners), drinking alcohol in moderation or not at all, exercising regularly, and keeping your weight at a healthy level.  In addition, your doctor can prescribe medications that can help lower your blood pressure.

Diabetes: Diabetes causes circulatory problems in your body. Because of these complications, if you have diabetes you have an increased risk of stroke. There are two kinds of diabetes, Type I (insulin dependent) and Type 2 (non-insulin dependent). Type 2 has been known as Adult Onset Diabetes, but the alarming rise in Type 2 among very young people, brought on largely by the obesity epidemic, is making that term obsolete. People with either type of diabetes generally have one or more other risk factors for stroke: heart disease, high cholesterol including high levels of LDL, and high blood pressure, all of which increase a person’s chances of having a stroke or a heart attack.

If you are overweight, a loss of as few as ten pounds can bring about a significant drop in blood glucose levels. Exercise can likewise help. A diet that qualifies as heart healthy is an excellent diet for a diabetic. While Type 1 diabetics are generally prescribed insulin, Type 2 diabetics may be prescribed oral medication or, if these are not successful, insulin.

High Cholesterol: Too much cholesterol or plaque build-up can cause abnormal blood flow and can clog arteries, which can lead to a stroke. High cholesterol can also increase the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis, which are both risk factors of stroke.

In addition to having an overall cholesterol reading of less than 200, you should have an HDL (good cholesterol) reading above 40, and an LDL (bad cholesterol) reading of less than 100. The best defense is a diet high in grains, fruits and vegetables and foods low in saturated fat. Your doctor can prescribe medications that can help lower your cholesterol.

Risk Factors You Can’t Control

Non-modifiable Risk Factors

Age: As one gets older, the risk of stroke increases. After the age of 55, the chances of stroke double every ten years. Approximately two-thirds of strokes occur in patients over the age of 65.

Gender: Stroke is 25% more prevalent in men than women, yet women are more likely to die from stroke.

Race: The rate of stroke differs among races, which is most likely associated to genetic factors. Social factors, such as lifestyle and environment are also believed to contribute to these differences. African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders are all at greater risk for strokes than Caucasians.

Heredity/Genetics: Having a family history of cerebrovascular disease (e.g. stroke) appears to be a contributing factor to stroke. Although you do not have control over your genetics or family history, positive steps can be made to lower your risk of stroke.If you have already experienced a stroke or TIA, you are at a higher risk of having a stroke in the future. Be sure to consult with your primary care physician to best decrease your risk of having another or new stroke.

Transient Ischemic Attacks or TIAs: TIAs are mini warning strokes that produce stroke-like symptoms, but with no lasting damage. If you have had one or more TIAs, the likelihood that you will have a stroke is tenfold greater than that of someone of your age and gender who has not.

Heart Attack: A heart attack is a strong indicator that you could have a stroke sometime in the future. Leading an intensely heart healthy lifestyle after your attack can improve the odds.

Prior Stroke Or TIA

The risk of stroke for someone who has already had one is many times that of a person who has not. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are “warning strokes” that produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. TIAs are strong predictors of stroke. A person who’s had one or more TIAs is almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who hasn’t. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce your risk of a major stroke. TIA should be considered a medical emergency and followed up immediately with a healthcare professional.

Stroke Warning Signs

Be looking for the following stroke warning signs:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headaches with no known cause (for hemorrhagic stroke)

If you or someone you know develops any of the warning signs listed above, it is very important to receive emergency help immediately. Call 9-1-1 right away even if the symptoms resolve and you feel better. Contact the emergency responders for urgent transportation to the closest emergency medical facility. By calling 9-1-1 you will receive the fastest emergency care and more likely be eligible for new stroke treatments.