By Kim Anker, RN, BSN
Director of Neuroscience at Northside Hospital
Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death among Americans and the number one cause of disability in adults. That’s the bad news. The good news is that 80 percent of strokes are preventable. As with anything, the first line of defense is knowledge. Take control by learning the facts.
Know your Risk
A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain stops, depriving the brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes of a stroke, brain cells begin to die and may cause permanent damage including paralysis, speech difficulties and dementia. Anyone, at any age, can have a stroke, but certain factors like being 55 older and being male put you at a greater risk. African Americans and people who have a family history of stroke also have an increased risk.
Luckily, there are many preventable risk factors that you can manage to dramatically reduce your chance of having a stroke. The following tips can help prevent a stroke and keep you happy and healthy for years to come.
- Control high blood pressure. Hypertension is the most potent risk factor for stroke. It may run in the family, but you can manage your blood pressure by cutting down salt, increasing potassium intake by eating more fruits and veggies and exercising. Your doctor may also prescribe some medicines to help lower your blood pressure.
- Quit Smoking. Yes, we all know smoking is bad, but puffing away can increase your chance of stroke by nearly four-fold. The nicotine in cigarettes raise blood pressure while the carbon monoxide from smoking reduces the amount of oxygen your blood can carry to the brain. Cigarette smoke also makes your blood thicker and more likely to clot. All of these increase your risk for stroke and provide even more incentives to kick the butt(s) for good.
- Managing Diabetes and High Cholesterol. You may think this disorder only affects the body’s ability to process sugar, but it also can cause destructive changes in the blood vessels throughout the body- including the brain. Treating diabetes can delay the onset of complications that increase the risk of stroke. Having high levels of cholesterol can lead to blood vessel narrowing, a major cause of heart attack and stroke. Protect yourself by ditching foods high in saturated and trans-fats and stick to a mostly plant-based diet with lots of veggies, fruits, and whole grains.
- Shed the extra pounds. Having a waistline measurement equal to or above the acceptable cutoff measurement (40 inches for men, 35 inches for women) increases the risk of having a stroke three-fold. Even a 5% loss of body weight can greatly reduce your chance of stroke.
Free Stroke Screenings
For more information about your stroke risk, upcoming stroke screenings and support groups, go to Northside.com/strokecenter.