Strokes affect nearly 800,000 Americans every year, resulting in about 140,000 deaths and making it the fifth leading cause of death nationally – but there’s no reason to take these numbers lying down. No, recent advances suggest that too many people are dying from preventable or treatable strokes. To reduce these numbers and minimize stroke-related disabilities, however, you’ll need to make lifestyle changes, learn the signs of a stroke, and be ready to act.
Know Your Risks
The first step toward stroke prevention is knowing your risk factors. The leading risk factors for stoke are the same as those for many other serious illnesses, including being overweight, having high blood pressure, smoking, drinking and eating fatty foods, and having a family history of stroke. The good news, though, is that you can make simple changes to reduce or eliminate most of these risks.
Weight Loss 101
The most important thing you can do to reduce the likelihood of a stroke is to lose weight and eat healthy. Skip the quick fixes, though, and emphasize fresh, nutrient-dense foods. That doesn’t mean giving up “treats” entirely, but practicing moderation with healthy foods ranked first. Plus, when you eat more fresh foods, you’ll likely find your cravings for sweets and fatty foods decrease.
Master Your Diabetes
Diabetes is one of the leading risk factors for stoke and it has no cure, so what can you do about it? The most important thing you can do to prevent your diabetes from causing a stroke is to keep your blood sugar under control. This is vital because according to the NIH, diabetes is the equivalent to aging 15 years when thought of in terms of stroke and cardiovascular risk.
This not only reduces strain on the arteries that can cause a stroke, but it can also reduce post-stroke damage. In studies of patients with more severe, poorly controlled diabetes, those with high blood glucose levels at the time of stroke suffer more extensive brain damage than those whose blood sugar is controlled. Diabetes is intimately linked to stroke risk so take control of yours.
Be A First Responder
You can take many steps to reduce your risk of a stroke, but there are some factors you can’t do anything about, such as family history and genetics. However, if you know that you have a genetic predisposition to a stroke, then you can use that information to better prepare yourself.
Fast response is vital to stroke treatment and recovery, which is why everyone should know this acronym: FAST – which stands for Face, Arms, Speech, Time. To assess whether someone may be having a stroke, looking for asymmetry or drooping on one side of the face, the inability to equally raise both arms, and slurred speech. If you detect these signs, then it’s time to act because time is the last major player in stroke treatment.
Historically, doctors have restricted use of the clot-busting drug tPa to within the first few hours after a stroke. Some will administer it for longer periods of time, but many more will only use it within 3 to 5 hours. In its place, others have begun experimenting with mechanical removal of clots within the first 24 hours. Both can reduce harm, but loss of blood flow to any area of the brain for an extended period of the time can be devastating, so you should never try to wait out symptoms that could indicate a stroke.
Don’t let yourself be a victim of a stroke – take control of your life and minimize your risks. Though you can’t prevent strokes entirely, you can make meaningful changes that will improve your quality of life across multiple arenas. The best thing about reducing your stroke risk is that at the end of the day, it’s all about taking good care of your body.