Strokes can cause serious, long-term disability. In fact, there are an estimated 7 million adult stroke survivors in the United States. Strokes are also a leading cause of death in the U.S., killing nearly 130,000 people each year.
While certain groups are more susceptible, the reality is that anyone can have a stroke, regardless of age, race or gender. So, it is important to realize that up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented by understanding and managing the personal risks for you and your loved ones.
There are two types of stroke risk factors:
- Uncontrollable risks factors, which include being over age 55, family medical history, being male, and ethnicity (being African American, Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander), and
- Controllable risk factors that are lifestyle or medical and can be changed or treated, like blood pressure, smoking and cholesterol.
Here are the top 10 controllable risk factors for strokes and suggests on ways to address them:
- Get Blood Pressure Under Control: High blood pressure (Hypertension) damages and weakens arteries, making them more susceptible to clogging or bursting, and causing a stroke. Hypertension is the biggest contributing risk factor to stroke, so have your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. If the levels are high, work on dietary changes or take medication to reduce them.
- Identify if you have Atrial Fibrillation (Afib): Afib is a major risk factor for stroke, causing one out of every six strokes. Afib is an abnormal heartbeat, which can cause blood to pool in the heart and may result in the formation of blood clots. Because of that, Afib can increase stroke risk by 500 percent. Three out of four Afib-related strokes can be prevented if diagnosed and treated.
- Stop smoking: Smoking doubles the risk of having a stroke by damaging blood vessel walls, accelerating artery clogs, raising blood pressure and making your heart work harder. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for stroke.
- Limit your alcohol use. Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and boost your stroke risk. If you are going to drink alcohol, wine – particularly red wine – has many properties that can help heart health. But, the key to any alcohol consumption is moderation. Men should limit themselves to two drinks a day and women to only one.
- Know and Control your Cholesterol Levels: Cholesterol is a soft fatty substance (lipid) that is made by the body and needed to form cell membranes, some hormones and vitamin D. Cholesterol is also found in foods, particularly eggs, meats and dairy products. Cholesterol is carried to and from cells by low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is the so-called “bad” cholesterol that can cause plaque build-up that clogs arteries. Get your cholesterol checked regularly and, if need be, make changes (diet, weight and exercise) to get it under control or seek medical treatment.
- Get Blood Sugar and/or Diabetes Under Control: Diabetes increases the odds of several health problems, including stroke risk. If your blood sugar is borderline, your doctor may recommend certain lifestyle changes to help get your blood sugar under good control and avoid it becoming diabetes. If already diagnosed as diabetic, work with your doctor to mitigate your stroke risk.
- Manage Your Diet and Weight: Extra weight strains the circulatory system. Physical activity can help you reduce weight as well as lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. It is also important to maintain a diet low in calories, salt, saturated and trans fats and cholesterol. Eating more fruits and vegetables daily helps.
- Treat Circulation Problems: Strokes can be caused by problems with the movement of blood through the heart, arteries and veins that affect blood supply to the brain. Fatty deposits blocking the arteries that carry blood from the heart ot the brain. These deposits can lead to a stroke. Circulation problems can be treated with medication.
- Pay Attention to a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): A TIA, sometimes called a mini-stroke, is when someone has stroke symptoms for less than 24 hours that then go away. Don’t ignore the TIA; it’s a warning. According to the National Stroke Association, almost 40 percent of people who have a TIA will eventually have a stroke. In fact, 5 percent will have a stroke within two days and about 15 percent within three months. As a result, anyone who suddenly experiences numbness or weakness on one side, confusion or trouble speaking, vision problems or balance/coordination problems needs medical care to prevent an actual stroke.
- Talk with Your Doctors: You need to team up with your medical care providers to collectively prevent or treat conditions that can lead to stroke. Your treatment plan should include lifestyle changes and possibly medications to reduce your risk for a stroke. So, one of the biggest risk factors and mistakes you can make is ignoring what your body is telling you before it is too late.
Preventing Stroke: Healthy Living – CDC
Preventing Stroke: Other Medical Conditions – CDC
Stroke Prevention Guidelines – National Stroke Assoc.
Stroke Prevention Lifestyle Tips – Web MD