Stroke is the third leading cause of death behind only heart disease and cancer. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to your brain is interrupted by a blocked artery, a clot or a broken blood vessel. Here are some stroke facts to remember:
- 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke every year.
- Stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer.
- African-Americans are almost twice as likely to suffer a stroke as Caucasian Americans.
- 80% of strokes can be prevented.
Stroke Prevention: Good News
"We are all at risk of a stroke," says Margaret Lewin, MD, FACP, medical director of Cinergy Health. Stroke can happen to anyone at any time regardless of your age, race or sex.
According to the National Stroke Association, death from stroke has gone down by over 30% in recent years. "Deaths from stroke are decreasing because of better preventive care. This includes earlier diagnosis and treatment of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes and atherosclerosis," says Dr. Lewin.
What can you do to help stroke prevention?
There are some stroke risk factors you cannot control, such as being over age 55, your race and having a family history of stroke. Other risk factors are influenced by lifestyle choices that you make. Here are six ways you can reduce your stroke risk:
- Get preventive medical care. See your doctor regularly and know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. A portable blood pressure monitor allows you to monitor your blood pressure at home. If you have diabetes make sure you keep it under control. Take all your medications as directed and ask your doctor if taking low doses of aspirin could help you.
- Eat healthy. Choose foods that are low in saturated fats and cholesterol. Include plenty of fiber, fruits and vegetables. Limit your salt intake.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases you risk of stroke. Ask your doctor to calculate your body mass index (BMI), which will tell you if you are in a healthy range.
- Exercise regularly. You can reduce your risk of stroke by exercising 30 minutes on most days of the week. Physical activity helps you control your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Stop smoking. Smoking doubles the risk of a stroke. As soon as you quit your risk starts to go down.
- Only drink alcohol in moderation. One glass of wine or beer per day may lower your stroke risk, but drinking too much alcohol makes your risk higher. If you have any trouble controlling how much you drink, don't drink at all.
"Reduce abdominal obesity by means of diet and a combination of aerobic and resistance exercise. If you are a post-menopausal woman, discuss with your doctor the use of aspirin therapy. A recent study showed that aspirin in women reduced the risk of stroke by 24%."—Margaret Lewin, MD
Talk to your doctor about all your stroke risk factors. Find out what type of exercise is best for you. If you are struggling with your weight or your diet ask for help from a nutritionist. Let your doctor know if you need help getting your smoking or alcohol use under control.
Final Thoughts For Caregivers About Seniors And Stroke
A stroke is a medical emergency. Once someone has symptoms of a stroke every minute counts.
- Know the sudden symptoms of stroke. These include sudden severe headache, loss of vision, dizziness, numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, confusion and trouble speaking.
- Don't ignore TIA. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are symptoms of stroke that go away in minutes or hours. These symptoms are a warning and should never be ignored. About 15% of TIAs precede a stroke and up to 40% of people with TIAs will eventually go on to have a full stroke.
- Remember the FAST (face, arm, speech, time) method for stroke recognition. Ask the person to smile to check for facial weakness. Ask the person to raise their arms to check for arm weakness. Ask the person to speak to check for speech problems. If you suspect a stroke call 9-1-1 because time is everything.