How You Can Reduce Your Risk of Having a Stroke

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We all know of someone who has experienced a stroke. Nearly 800,000 people had a stroke in the United States in 2018. Many of those people were left with permanent disability to one degree or another, making stroke the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States.

In addition, nearly 140,000 people die every year from stoke, making it the fifth-leading cause of death. Strokes can occur at any age, but three-quarters of all strokes occur in people older than age 65.

A stroke is a brain attack. Somewhere in the blood vessels that feed our brains, blood flow is blocked and brain cells are starved of oxygen, sugar, and other factors they need to survive. Usually, the problem is a blood clot or buildup of plaque in the vessels. Women are slightly more prone to strokes than men, and people of African-American descent have almost double the risk compared to Caucasians.

Ways to Reduce Stroke Risk

There are ways to reduce the risk of having a stroke. Many conditions can damage blood vessels on the inside, leading to more of the plaques that can block blood flow in those vessels.

  • High blood pressure is a main contributor to stroke and is the most important risk factor. Is your blood pressure under control?
  • High cholesterol and high blood sugar are also factors to an increased stroke risk. It’s important to control your cholesterol and your blood sugar to keep your brain healthy.
  • Smoking constricts all the blood vessels. A constricted blood vessel is more likely to form clots. Smoking also damages the lining of all blood vessels, leading to more plaques.
  • Consuming too much alcohol contributes to risk. It’s recommended that men drink no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, and women limit their alcohol consumption to one per day. A drink is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or a 1½ ounce shot of hard liquor.
  • Obesity also damages blood vessels. Often, losing even 10 pounds can make a big difference. One important note on being overweight, people often equate exercise with weight control. Along with eating a healthy diet, exercise will almost certainly help you drop pounds. However, even if you do not lose a single ounce, exercise will make you healthier; it will help control your blood pressure and blood sugar. Even if you do not lose a single ounce, exercise will help you reduce your risk of heart attack – and stroke.

What to Do When Stroke Happens

When a stroke occurs, as many as two million brain cells can die every minute. The more time from stroke to treatment, the more brain cells are lost. This is why it is so important to recognize the symptoms of a stroke, call 911, and get emergency medical attention as FAST as possible.

FAST is a simple reminder of the danger signs of a stroke:

  • Face. Ask them to smile. Do you notice that one side of the face droops?
  • Arms. Ask them to raise both arms. Does one arm drift down?
  • Speech. Ask them to repeat a simple phrase such as, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Is their speech slurred?
  • Time. If you see any of these symptoms – any of them – call 911 immediately! Do not drive them to the Emergency Department yourself. Call 911. Before they leave your house, EMS can start professional assessment and treatment with proper medications and equipment.

Steven Baldridge, RN, is a staff educator at University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center.

Related links

UH Cleveland Medical Center is the first hospital in Northeast Ohio to achieve The Joint Commission’s rigorous standards for Comprehensive Stroke Center Certification. This certification showcases our ability to treat the most complex stroke cases. Learn more about stroke diagnosis and treatment at University Hospitals.

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