Reduce Your Risk of Having a Stroke

Heart monitor

According to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, stroke is the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of adult disability in the United States. On average, someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke every 40 seconds, someone dies of a stroke every four minutes, and nearly 800,000 people suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year.

Some stroke risk factors cannot be changed. As you age, you are at increased risk of stroke. Each year, women have more strokes than men, and stroke kills more women than men. African-Americans are at higher risk of dying of stroke than Caucasians.

What risk factors for stroke can be changed or treated to reduce your risk?

  • High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and the most important controllable risk factor.  The good news is that it can be lowered with diet, exercise and/or medication.  About 80 million U.S. adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, but only about half have it under control.  High blood pressure has no visible symptoms which is why it is referred to as the “silent killer.”  So, if you haven’t had your blood pressure checked recently,  or if you have a family history of high blood pressure, see your doctor to get yours checked.
  • Cigarette smoking – Nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke damages the cardiovascular system, and using oral contraceptives with cigarette smoking greatly increases stroke risk.
  • Diabetes – While diabetes is treatable with medication, the presence of the disease still increases the risk of stroke.  Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and are overweight.  Be sure to monitor your blood sugar regularly and keep it under control.
  • High blood cholesterol – A risk factor that can be lowered with diet and exercise. In addition, medications are often very effective in treating high cholesterol.  Your cholesterol is checked with a blood test ordered by your doctor.
  • Heart disease – People with coronary heart disease, atrial fibrillation, and artery disease are at increased risk of stroke.
  • Poor diet– Diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol can raise cholesterol levels and diets high in sodium (salt) contributes to high blood pressure.  Try increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat on a daily basis.  By adding to your diet what is good for you, you may find you eat less of what is not so good.
  • Physical inactivity and being overweight can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.   It is so important to your health to stay active.  The key is to find something you enjoy.  If you like the outdoors, try hiking, biking, walking, kayaking, running or skiing.  If you are an indoor person, join a gym, take an exercise class, go dancing – so many possibilities.  If you can get a friend to join you, all the better!

Source: American Heart Association/American Stroke Association

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