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Excess Weight and Stroke

Posted 5/11/2017 by UHBlog

Learn how scale back your risk of stroke. Ask us.

Excess Weight and Stroke

Thinking about having an extra piece of cheesecake for dinner? Have a hankering for a thick slab of fried onion rings with a platter of spare ribs? If these foods are part of your regular diet, it’s time for a new menu. Calorie-dense, salty foods can add lots of pounds around your middle – and may put you on target for a stroke.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death for women, yet most women don't know what the risk factors are, let alone what they can do to prevent one.

“Women who are significantly overweight or obese have a substantially higher risk for stroke and other health-related problems,” says vascular neurologist Cathy Sila, MD. “And where that extra fat is stored on a woman’s body can make a difference.”

A recent study of the connection between stroke and obesity found that overweight and obese women were more at risk for ischemic strokes, where blood flow is blocked to the brain. According to the American Stroke Association, ischemic stroke is by far the leading form of stroke, accounting for about 87 percent of cases.

It may sound fruity, but a woman’s body shape – whether she resembles an apple or a pear – rather than her dress size is linked to major stroke risk factors. An apple shape is described as being round in the middle, and a pear shape as having generous hips, bottom and thighs.

An apple a day might be good for your health, but if you look like a plump golden delicious, take care. That’s because when belly fat wraps around the body’s vital organs, it produces hormones and other chemicals that tamper with blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

“That extra fat around the middle raises the risk of a host of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and strokes,” says Dr. Sila.

The good news is that there are ways a woman can change her lifestyle to lower her stroke risk. These include:

  • Lose weight. Obesity raises your odds of having a stroke. Losing just 10 pounds can make a difference.
  • Lower blood pressure. “High blood pressure is a major contributor to the risk of stroke in women,” Dr. Sila says.
  • Exercise at moderate intensity five days a week. “Think of exercise as medicine,” she says.
  • Drink in moderation. Limit alcohol to one drink a day
  • Quit smoking.
  • Get regular checkups and health screenings.
  • Lower stress levels.
  • Treat depression.

Change of life can mean hot flashes, difficulty sleeping and an expanded waistline.

“Talk with your doctor about treatments for menopausal symptoms,” Dr. Sila says. “There are many options that are safer than the estrogen pills that were used decades ago, and they don't carry the same risk of blood clots.”

If you’re at a higher risk of having a stroke, make sure you know the five warning signs:

  1. Walk – Is your balance off?
  2. Talk – Is your speech slurred?
  3. Reach – Is one side weak or numb?
  4. See – Is your vision all or partly lost?
  5. Feel – Is your headache severe?

“Everyone should know the potential signs and signals of a stroke and get emergency care immediately if any of these symptoms are present,” she says. “The sooner you act, the better chances you have for recovery.”

Take these stroke quizzes to learn more about strokes and stroke prevention:

Cathy Sila, MD, is a vascular neurologist and program director, Vascular Neurology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, and director, Comprehensive Stroke Center at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Sila or any other doctor online.

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