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Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Research published by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reported that approximately 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke every year, and 160,000 of these strokes ultimately result in death.
Women should pay close attention to the statistics regarding the incidence of strokes in the United States. According to the National Stroke Association, “stroke kills twice as many women than breast cancer every year.” About 425,000 women suffer a stroke annually. The good news is that strokes can often be prevented and treated. Before we discuss prevention methods, let’s take a moment to understand what causes a stroke.
What is a Stroke?
Stroke, also known as a “brain attack,” occurs when the brain fails to receive the vital blood that it needs. This lack of blood flow causes cells to die, which also results in a loss of oxygen to the brain. This type of stroke, known as an ischemic stroke is the most common type, and is frequently caused by an accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries.
The other type of stroke, known as a hemorrhagic stroke, occurs when a blood vessel ruptures in the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are typically caused by a weakened area in the artery that bursts.
Both types of strokes are considered a medical emergency. Knowing the following warning signs may help to save your life or a life of a loved-one:
- Numbness or weakness of arm, leg or face
- Sudden painful headache
- Trouble seeing
- Sudden trouble walking
- Loss of balance
- Shortness of breath
- Racing heartbeat
If any of these symptoms are present, seek medical attention immediately.
How to Prevent a Stroke
While some risk factors for stroke, such as family history and age, are out of your control, current research indicates that up to 80% of strokes can be prevented with the proper preventative techniques. The following steps may help reduce your chance of stroke:
Eat a Healthy Diet
According to the USDA, a healthy diet consists of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy and lean meats. They also recommend avoiding foods that are high in fat and sugar. Also minimize or avoid foods that are high in cholesterol and saturated fat (although some studies are starting to show the opposite recommendation here). Remember that portion control also plays an important role in a healthy diet.
Medical research has now linked alcohol consumption as a potential risk factor for a stroke. Recent studies have revealed that consuming more that two alcoholic beverages per day can increase the risk of stroke by as much as 50%. Other medical studies have indicated that consuming just one alcoholic drink daily may actually lower the risk of a stroke.
Monitor Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is one of the most significant risk factors for a stroke. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, high blood pressure is responsible for a two-to-four fold risk of stroke in people before the age of 80. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe certain medications to keep it under control. Other lifestyle changes, such as eating less so and exercising more, can go a long way in lowering your blood pressure.
Have Your Cholesterol Tested
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is often called the “bad” type of cholesterol, while high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is often known as the “good” cholesterol. This is because excess LDL cholesterol in the blood can accumulate in the arteries and cause plaque. Meanwhile HDL cholesterol is believed to remove cholesterol from the body. People with high cholesterol often have no symptoms. This is why it’s important to have your cholesterol screened at least once a year. Eating healthy foods and exercise can often lower cholesterol; however, in some people cholesterol can be hereditary. In this case, doctors can prescribe medication to help lower cholesterol.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight can be caused from poor diet, lack of exercise and in some cases can even be inherited. Regardless of the reason, obesity does increase the risk of stroke. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association reported that “the higher a person’s degree of obesity, the higher the risk is of stroke.” Calculate your body mass index (BMI) to see if you’re at an appropriate weight.
According to the National Stroke Association, smoking doubles the risk of a stroke. Smoking reduces the presence of oxygen in the blood. This causes the heart to have to work harder. Smoking has also been linked to build up of plaque in the arteries, which can block the flow of blood to the brain. If you’re having trouble kicking the habit, try nicotine patches and gums, or join a support group. Along with stroke, smoking is also a risk factor for heart disease and a whole host of cancers.
Diabetes raises the amount of blood sugar in your body. The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse advises that along with high blood glucose, diabetes causes destructive alterations in blood vessels throughout the body. If you have diabetes, you are at an increased risk of stroke; therefore, it’s important to maintain a disciplined treatment program to avoid potential complications.
We’ve all heard the cliché – stress is a killer. Well, it’s true. Chronic stress has been linked to a whole myriad of health problems, to include stroke. A study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry indicated that people with “high-strung” personalities were more susceptible to stroke, even if they had other risk factors in check, such as diabetes and hypertension. To help minimize stress, try deep breathing exercises, meditation and exercise.
Although you can’t completely diminish the risk of a stroke, by following this eight-step program, you will be on your way to a healthy preventative plan. In recent years, a better understanding of the causes of stroke has helped Americans decrease the death rate in half. You too, are now armed with the knowledge to keep this silent killer at bay.
Your author Gem Wilson has a close family member who is a victim of stroke, she knows how important to look after your health to prevent it from occurring. She recommends a healthy lifestyle.
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