Each year there are approximately 800,000 strokes in the US each year, and experts say that at least 80% of them are preventable. Basically, your chances of avoiding stroke are 8 in 10 — if you take the right steps. Those are great odds that will work for you if you get familiar with the risk factors for stroke and embrace a lifestyle that alleviates their danger. Some risk factors are controllable, and others, unfortunately, are not.
Sadly, there are a few risk factors that you can’t do anything about:
– Age – stroke can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of race, sex or age, but the older you are, the more susceptible you are to stroke. The chances of stroke double every ten years after the age of 55.
– Gender – this factor is rather complex. In any given year, about 55,000 more women than men suffer strokes. That’s somewhat misleading because women live longer and have strokes at more advanced ages. At younger ages, however, more men than women of the same age have strokes in any given year. Either way, there’s nothing one can do to improve the odds based on gender alone.
– Race – African Americans, Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders are all at greater risk for strokes than Caucasians.
– Family Background – if there is family history of stroke, your risk of having one is greater.
– Prior stroke – if you have already had a stroke, unfortunately your chances of having another are many times greater than if you had not had one. You can’t do anything about it, but you can stick to an anti-stroke lifestyle: proper diet, regular exercise, no smoking, little or no alcohol and using any medication your doctor prescribes.
– Transient ischemic attacks or TIAs – TIAs are warning or mini-strokes that cause stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. If you have had one or more TIAs, the likelihood that you will have a stroke is ten times greater than that of someone of your age and gender who has not.
– Heart attack – a heart attack is a strong indicator that you may have a stroke at some time in the future. Leading an intensely heart healthy lifestyle after your attack can improve the odds.
On the other hand, there’s a group of risk factors which you can largely control either by changing some of your everyday routines or with a form of medical intervention:
– Hypertension or high blood pressure – the problem with high blood pressure is that it causes your heart to work harder, which can weaken blood vessels and harm major organs. A healthy reading is about 120/80. Readings consistently above 140/90 indicate your blood pressure is in the danger zone.
You can help keep your blood pressure in check by limiting your intake of sodium (found in abundance in many processed foods like cold cuts, canned soup and frozen dinners), drinking alcohol in moderation or not at all, exercising regularly, and keeping your weight at a healthy level. In addition, your doctor can prescribe medications that can help lower your blood pressure.
– High cholesterol – everybody needs cholesterol, but too much cholesterol in the bloodstream can clog arteries and lead to a stroke or heart attack. In addition to having an overall cholesterol reading of less than 200, you should have an HDL (good cholesterol) reading above 40, and an LDL (bad cholesterol) reading of less than 100.
The best defense is a diet high in grains, fruits and vegetables, and low in saturated fat. As with hypertension, your doctor can prescribe medications that can help lower your cholesterol.
– Diabetes –People with either type of diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2) generally have one or more other risk factors for stroke: heart disease, high cholesterol including high levels of LDL, and high blood pressure, all of which increase a person’s chances of having a stroke or a heart attack.
If you are overweight (and many people with Type 2 are!) a loss of as few as ten pounds can bring about a significant drop in blood glucose levels. Exercise can help too. A diet that qualifies as heart healthy is an excellent diet for a diabetic. While Type 1 diabetics are generally prescribed insulin, Type 2 diabetics may be prescribed oral medication or, if these are not successful, insulin.
Finally, it’ important to know that stroke doesn’t come suddenly. Generally it’s accompanied by the following stroke warning signs:
- Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body,
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding,
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes,
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination,
- Sudden, severe headaches with no known cause (for hemorrhagic stroke).
In case you experience any of these, you must contact your healthcare provider immediately.