|Strokes often result in long-term health problems, and sometimes death. But there are steps you can take to help prevent them.
|What is a stroke?
To function properly, your brain relies on a constant flow of blood. An ischemic stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked or dramatically reduced. This is the most common type of stroke. If a blood vessel in the brain bleeds, it is called a hemorrhagic stroke.
A stroke deprives brain cells of blood and oxygen, and the cells begin to die. The dying cells set off a chain reaction, damaging other nearby cells, which will also die without quick medical attention.
Strokes affect people in different ways. Depending on the location, size, severity and type, a stroke can affect your motor function, your senses, your balance, and your ability to speak, understand, think, remember, recognize and simply know how to use your limbs.
Know your risk factors
- High blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the chief risk factors for stroke.
- Excess alcohol consumption. This means more than two drinks per day for men; more than one drink a day for women.
- Diabetes. Diabetes often goes hand in hand with high blood pressure, another risk factor for stroke. Also, people with diabetes often have high cholesterol and are overweight, both secondary risk factors for stroke.
- Carotid artery disease. Your carotid arteries bring blood to the brain. If one of your carotid arteries is damaged by disease, a blood clot may form in the artery, blocking the blood flow and causing a stroke.
- Heart disease, including a history of a heart attack or enlarged heart. People with heart disease double their risk for stroke.
- Atrial fibrillation. This type of abnormal heart rhythm can lead to the formation of a blood clot in the heart. Pieces of this clot can then pass into the brain and cause a stroke.
- Transient ischemic attacks, also called "mini-strokes." Although these mini-strokes don't cause any long-term damage, they are a warning that a major stroke may occur. A person who has a mini-stroke has an 11 to 20 percent risk for a major stroke in 90 days, depending on whether there is underlying atrial fibrillation or carotid artery disease.
- Drug abuse. Using certain illegal drugs, particularly cocaine, increases the risk for stroke.
- Family history of stroke. If a close family relative has had a stroke, you are at increased risk for having one yourself.
- Personal history of stroke. If you've had one stroke, your risk increases for having another.
- Age. After age 55, your risk for having a stroke doubles every 10 years.
- Race. African Americans are at higher risk for stroke than whites because African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke.
- Gender. Men are at greater risk for stroke than women before age 55. After age 55, the risk is equal for both men and women.
Secondary risk factors
- High cholesterol.
- A sedentary lifestyle.
- Obesity or being overweight.
The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk for stroke.
Reduce your risk
You can't change some risk factors, such as age or gender, but you can change others.
- Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure increases your risk for stroke by as much as six times. Because high blood pressure has no symptoms, you can't gauge your pressure by the way you feel. You must have it checked and treated with medication, if necessary.
- Don't smoke. Smokers are twice as likely as nonsmokers to suffer a stroke, because of the effects of nicotine and carbon monoxide. Smoking and using oral contraceptives increases the risk for stroke even more.
- Reduce your alcohol intake. Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure, which increases your risk for stroke. Alcohol also can lead to obesity and raise triglyceride levels. Men should have no more than two drinks a day; women, one.
- Eat a healthy diet. Limit your intake of high-fat and high-cholesterol foods. Too much cholesterol in your bloodstream can cause a buildup of plaque in your blood vessels that can block blood flow to your brain, causing a stroke. It also can put you at risk for heart disease, a strong risk factor for stroke.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables every day. Doing so can reduce your risk.
- Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days. This can help lower your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease, both of which are risk factors for stroke.