Knowing How to Prevent a Stroke
Approximately 795,000 Americans per year have a stroke. Prevention is possible in many cases of premature stroke. Some lifestyle changes with healthy behaviors can make all the difference as to whether or not you get a stroke. In this article we discuss how to prevent a stroke and how to avoid the risk factors.
What Is a Stroke?
A stroke is a condition that happens when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to or within the brain gets blocked by a blood clot or bursts. When this happens, your brain is deprived of the oxygen it needs to function, and as a result, brain cells start to die. When blood can’t get to its destination in the brain, parts of the body don’t work the way they should.
There are three types of stroke:
- Ischemic stroke: a blood clot obstructs the flow of blood to the brain
- Hemorrhagic stroke: a blood vessel bursts, so blood is unable to get to the brain
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA): a temporary clot causes what’s known as a mini-stroke
There are a few indicators of a stroke and signs to look out for, including:
- Weakness on one side of the body
- Numb face
- Severe headache
- Vision loss
- Inability to walk
How to Prevent a Stroke
There are some cases where a person is more susceptible to a stroke, such as those at a more advanced age or someone with a close relative who has had a stroke. While you can’t prevent a stroke 100% of the time, you can certainly minimize your risk.
Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk of a stroke:
1. Address and Lower Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is the biggest contributor to stroke in men and women—your risk doubles if your blood pressure isn’t under control. Your blood pressure should be less than 120/80 if you can manage it. See your doctor, monitor your blood pressure and follow a treatment plan if your blood pressure is too high.
2. Lose Weight
Obesity and being overweight create health complications beyond diabetes and high blood pressure. Your chances of a stroke increase if you’re overweight, which is an incentive to address your overall health and how you can safely lose excess weight. Aim for a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or less if it’s realistic—online calculators can calculate your BMI with a few simple inputs. Your doctor can help create a personal weight loss strategy to ensure you’re still giving your body everything it needs.
3. Exercise More
Try to exercise at least five days a week, but some form of activity each day is ideal. A good goal is 150 minutes of cardio a week. Exercising helps you tackle your weight loss goals, lowers your blood pressure and cholesterol, and also reduces your risk of stroke outside of these other benefits.
4. Treat Diabetes
Diabetes is hard on your blood vessels, damaging them with high blood sugar, and creating an opportunity for clots to form inside of the vessels. Staying within your recommended blood sugar range is vital for controlling your diabetes as well as minimizing your stroke risk. Your doctor will recommend monitoring your blood sugar levels, changing your diet, exercising and medication/insulin to treat your diabetes.
5. Treat Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is a type of irregular heartbeat. These heartbeats can cause blood clots to form inside the heart—when the heart beats, it pushes the blood (and potentially clots) to the brain where it results in a stroke. Always see a doctor for any heart issues, including heart palpitations or shortness of breath. If you are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, your doctor may prescribe blood thinners to reduce your risk of stroke.
6. Lower Your alcohol Consumption
There is research showing that about one drink a day may lower your risk of stroke. If you like a glass of wine at dinner or a beer at the end of the day, this is great news. However, if you’re likely to pour yourself more than one drink, your risk of a stroke increases sharply. One drink is the sweet spot, and it’s measured by portion: standard size for wine is 5 ounces, for beer it’s 12 ounces and for hard alcohol it’s 1.5 ounces. Red wine is a good choice as it contains a substance called resveratrol, which may help protect the heart and brain.
7. Quit Smoking and Recreational Drugs
Smoking contributes to your risk of stroke and other health risks. Clot formation speeds up in smokers because smoking thickens the blood and increases plaque buildup in the arteries (giving clots more opportunity to get stuck). By giving up this habit, your risk of stroke goes down exponentially.
Additionally, other recreational drugs such as amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, opioids and LSD increase your risk of stroke. Giving up these activities is beneficial for your overall health.
8. Eat Right
Everything you consume affects your body—both healthy and unhealthy foods. Sticking to a nutritionally sound and balanced diet can help prevent stroke. Eat several portions of fruits and vegetables each day, cut back on salt and consume foods high in fiber. Avoid foods high in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol. Meal and snack prepping in advance will help you stay on track.
9. Birth Control and Hormone Replacement Therapy
Of particular concern to women, some medications contain estrogen which may increase your risk of stroke and TIA. Consult with your doctor to address any risk of stroke you may have with contraception or treatment.
10. Reduce stress
Those with chronic stress are at risk of higher cholesterol or high blood pressure (both of which put strain on the heart and may narrow the arteries). Manage your stress to avoid additional risk for stroke.
If there are actions you can take to reduce your risk of stroke, you should implement them right away. Focusing on your health and changing your lifestyle may be what helps you avoid a stroke in the future.