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The Stroke Network
PO Box 492
Abingdon, MD 21009
are many myths that surround stroke. For example, you might have heard that
stroke only strikes the elderly. The reality is that stroke can strike
anybody, at any age. Many people are under the impression that stroke occurs
in the heart. Stroke occurs in the brain, which is why we often refer to it
as a "brain attack." Another common misperception, and one that I want to
focus on in this article, is that stroke cannot be prevented. The reality is
that stroke is preventable.
There are many things that you can do to try to significantly reduce your
risk of stroke. Physicians don't emphasize this to their patients or to the
members of their community enough. Let's discuss these risk-reducing
strategies in further detail.
first risk factor that I want to discuss is high blood pressure. High blood
pressure is the number 1 risk factor for stroke. High blood pressure is very
frequent, usually running in families, and it’s a problem we can do something
about. It can be easily detected. People with high blood pressure don’t often
know it -- it doesn’t cause symptoms. In fact, it is often referred to as 'the
silent killer'. Many people think that headaches are frequently associated with
high blood pressure. This is not typically the case. So it is extremely
important to get your blood pressure tested. If you have high blood pressure,
you can often lower it by simply modifying your diet: Losing weight, reducing
fat intake, reducing overall calories. Reducing salt intake is important for
some people. These dietary changes, along with a little exercise, can really
help to reduce high blood pressure. Of course, sometimes you do need medicine to
lower your blood pressure. It is not uncommon to need more than one medicine. If
you do need to take medicine, take it every day and follow the prescribing
directions. These medicines are extremely important in lowering your blood
pressure and your risk of stroke.
let's move forward to something more seductive: smoking. Smoking is an
important risk factor for stroke. It increases one's risk almost twofold.
Just to put things in perspective, the number of Americans who die annually due
to smoking-related causes is approximately equal to the number of deaths that
would result if three jumbo jets crashed every single day for a year. The
encouraging news is though, that there is a lot of good scientific data that
shows that those who can quit smoking can reduce the risk of stroke. So
remember, it is never too late to quit. Also, encourage your spouses and family
members to quit as well. There is clear evidence that exposure to other people's
smoke--passive smoking--is also dangerous. The bottom line is that smoking,
either by you or anyone in your household, is simply bad news. If you do it,
quit. If you haven’t, don’t start.
have all probably heard some good things and bad things about alcohol. Let's
start with the good news. It appears that if you drink a little bit--mild to
moderate drinking--you can actually reduce your risk of stroke. My colleagues
and I just completed a study in which we found that moderate alcohol use is
associated with a significantly decreased risk of ischemic stroke. Ischemic
stroke is the most common type of stroke and occurs when a blood clot blocks a
blood vessel in the brain. This risk reduction was seen in a multi-ethnic
population, including Caucasians, African-Americans, and Hispanics, and was
independent of hypertension or smoking. The bad news is that heavy alcohol use
increases the risk of stroke. The more you drink, the worse the risk of stroke.
However, heavy drinkers who cut back to no more than two drinks a day can reduce
this risk. Of course, these studies are not implying that physicians should
recommend to their patients to have two drinks a day in order to reduce their
risk of stroke. No study has shown a benefit in recommending alcohol use to
people who don't drink. What the studies are suggesting is that among those
people who are moderate drinkers, continued consumption might provide a
reduction of ischemic stroke risk. However, they may have other medical
conditions that need to be considered which may be aggravated by alcohol.
Therefore, every patient's situation is different and the risk and benefits of
alcohol must be balanced.
people are aware of the overall benefits of physical activity. Getting patients
to do it is the hard part. I would like to emphasize is that you don't have to
be a marathon runner to benefit from exercise. Doing
some physical activity can reduce the risk of stroke. Walking is just as
good as running. Walking briskly for 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week, is
something that can really make a difference. Elderly people and younger adults
benefit from physical activity in similar ways. These benefits are far reaching,
and can improve your entire cardiovascular profile, including positively
affecting cholesterol levels.
levels of HDL, the good cholesterol, can reduce your risk of heart attack and
stroke. The other type of cholesterol, LDL, is the kind that actually can build
up in arteries, and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
High cholesterol can run in families. Some people, regardless of
diet, have high cholesterol. Most people do not require medicine to control
their cholesterol. However, not everybody can do it with dietary changes. We
recognize that. And that’s why there are good medications out there, for people
who may need it. These cholesterol-reducing medications can also reduce the
chance of death, heart attack, and stroke.
hope that I demonstrated that there is a great deal each one of us can do to
reduce our risk of getting a stroke. If we would even just focus on one risk
factor, such as hypertension, or smoking, for example, we can really make a
difference in our lives.
Let's look at it on a broader scope.
There are at least 750,000 strokes per
year in the United States.
- If the blood
pressure of the
entire population was controlled, we would eliminate
approximately 308,125 strokes
- If we all reduced cholesterol levels,
we would eliminate about
- If the entire country stopped smoking, almost
would not occur.
- If we treated every case of atrial
fibrillation, a special medical condition of the heart that
we did not discuss above, we would eliminate at
- If we eliminated heavy alcohol use,
and consumed only a moderate amount of alcohol, about 29,375 strokes
would be eliminated.
These numbers give us an idea of how much we can really do to
decrease our stroke risk. Given the reduction in stroke, based on the numbers
above, nearly 80% of strokes could be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle.
||Know what the
risk factors are.
||Do what you can to modify your lifestyle.
||Maintain a healthy weight.
||Eat a healthy diet.
||Do not smoke.
||Think of the good things that can be done, that can be
enjoyable, and that you can adopt into your day-to-day routines.
||If you need medications, don't forget to take them as
||If you have serious diseases like atrial
fibrillation or diabetes, make sure you manage
||Remember that even small changes can make big differences.
Stroke Warning Signs
||Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially
on one side of the body
||Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
||Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
||Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or
||Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
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