How to Help Prevent Stroke
Strokes are caused when a blood vessel ruptures (called a hemorrhagic stroke) or when a clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain (called an ischemic stroke).
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Heart Association, and is the number one cause of disability. Eighty percent of strokes are preventable.
The best way to prevent strokes is to reduce your risks, says Eric Uhrik, D.O., a neurologist and medical director of the Raritan Bay Medical Center Stroke Center.
Risk Factors for Stroke
According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, risk factors for stroke include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart diseases such as cardiomyopathy and atrial fibrillation
- Age (your risk increases as you get older)
- Gender (men are more likely to have strokes)
- Taking birth control
- Race/ethnicity (strokes occur more often in African American, Alaska Native and American Indian adults)
- Personal or family history of stroke or heart disease
- Brain aneurysms or blood vessel malformations
- Poor diet
- Alcohol/illegal drug use
Tips to Reduce Your Risk
Dr. Uhrik offers these tips to reduce your risk of stroke:
- Check your blood pressure regularly. If you have elevated blood pressure consistently, talk to your doctor about treatment to control it.
- Get tested for diabetes, especially if you have a family history.
- Get a heart health check. Heart disease, heart weakness or cardiac arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation can cause blood clots to shoot to the brain, causing strokes.
- Be vigilant about your cholesterol. Many heart vessel clogging problems that occur in the heart from high blood fats (cholesterol) also occur in the blood vessels in the brain and in the vessels leading to the brain. So it’s important to regularly check your cholesterol. Make necessary dietary or medication changes to lower your cholesterol, especially the LDL type.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity on its own is a risk factor for stroke. But it also can lead to other health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, which are additional stroke risk factors.
- Eat foods low in cholesterol and fats, especially saturated fats and trans fats, such as lean meats, non-fat dairy and whole-grain breads.
- Exercise regularly. Humans were made to move. Working out keeps your blood flowing and your heart strong. Aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. But even 10 minutes of exercise a day offers health benefits.
- If you smoke, stop. Smoking can damage blood vessels as well as the heart. It also can increase blood pressure and lead to decreased oxygen supply from the lungs, and it leads to other health diseases that can impact stroke risk.
- Drink less alcohol. Even one or two drinks a day can increase the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.
- Reduce stress. Stress can alter blood sugar and raise blood pressure as well as cause cardiac rhythm irregularities.
“The best treatment for stroke is preventing one from happening in the first place, which means making lifestyle choices that keep your blood vessels and heart strong and healthy,” Dr. Uhrik says.
Resources and Next Steps
Meet our clinical contributor: Eric Uhrik, D.O.
To make an appointment with Dr. Uhrik or a doctor near you, call 800-822-8905.
- American Heart Association
- National Institutes of Health
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.
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