Approximately 780,000 Americans have a stroke and more than 150,000 people die from a stroke each year1. Stroke accounts for the third largest number of deaths in the United States annually and is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in adults. But there is good news. There are about 5.8 million stroke survivors alive today and the death rate from stroke has actually declined over recent years. Want some more good news? You can control some risk factors and potentially prevent a stroke.
Manage high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
High blood pressure (a systolic blood pressure 140 mm Hg or higher, or a diastolic pressure 90 mm Hg or higher) can damage blood vessels, including the ones that provide vital blood flow to the brain. Take medications as prescribed by your doctor, eat a healthy diet and follow a regular exercise routine. Reduce your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol to help decrease the amount of plaque that can build up in the inner walls of arteries. Diabetes, which affects how the body processes sugars and fats, should be controlled to reduce complications if you do have a stroke.
The nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke can damage the cardiovascular system, causing narrowed blood vessels and blood clots. A former smoker’s risk of stroke is the same as that of a nonsmoker within several years of quitting.
Eat healthy foods.
Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily to help reduce the risk of stroke. Choose low-calorie, low-fat snacks and bake, boil or broil meats and fish rather than frying. Avoid salt and opt for canola, safflower or olive oils when cooking. Select skinless chicken, lean red meat, turkey and fish. Alcohol can raise cholesterol levels, increase blood pressure and add calories to your diet. That is why it’s important to limit alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day if you are a man and one drink per day if you are a woman.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight can cause your body to convert excess fat and cholesterol into plaque, potentially reducing blood flow to the brain and making your heart work harder. Losing just 10 pounds can help lower your cholesterol level and blood pressure.
Moderate exercise of at least 30 minutes most days can not only lower your risk of stroke, but also help you improve your heart health, lose weight, control diabetes and reduce stress. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program that could include walking, jogging, swimming or bicycling.
You may not be able to control all your risk factors for having a stroke, such as age, heredity, gender, or prior history of a stroke. But you can do a lot to prevent a stroke. Talk with your doctor and develop a treatment plan that incorporates a healthy lifestyle and reduces your risk of stroke. For more information about stroke risk factors, prevention, symptoms and treatment, visit the American Stroke Association website at www.strokeassociation.org.