is a cardiovascular disease. It affects the blood
vessels that supply blood to the brain.
When blood flow to the brain is
impaired, oxygen and important nutrients cannot be
delivered. The result is abnormal brain function.
Blood flow to the brain can be disrupted by either a
blockage or rupture of an artery to the brain. There
are many causes for a stroke.
This is a medical emergency. Prompt treatment
could mean the difference between life and death.
Early treatment can also minimize damage to your
brain and potential disability.
Knowing your risk factors and living healthfully are the best steps you
can take to prevent a stroke. In general, a healthy lifestyle means that
blood pressure (hypertension).
One of the most important things you can do to reduce your stroke
risk is to keep your blood pressure under control. If you've had a
stroke, lowering your blood pressure can help prevent a subsequent
transient ischemic attack or stroke. Exercising, managing stress,
maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting sodium and alcohol intake
are all ways to keep hypertension in check. In addition to
recommendations for lifestyle changes, your doctor may prescribe
medications to reduce hypertension, such as diuretics, angiotensin-converting
enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers.
your cholesterol and saturated fat intake.
Eating less cholesterol and fat, especially saturated fat, may
reduce the plaques in your arteries. If you can't control your
cholesterol through dietary changes alone, your doctor may prescribe
a cholesterol-lowering medication.
B complex vitamins — B-6, B-12 and folic acid (folate) — can work
together to reduce blood levels of homocysteine, thereby lowering
your risk of a stroke.
Quitting smoking reduces your risk of stroke. Several years after
quitting, a former smoker's risk of stroke is the same as that of a
You can manage diabetes with diet, exercise, weight control and
medication. Strict control of your blood sugar may reduce damage to
your brain if you do have a stroke.
Being overweight contributes to other risk factors for stroke such
as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Weight
loss of as little as 10 pounds may lower your blood pressure and
improve your cholesterol levels.
Aerobic exercise reduces your risk of stroke in many ways. Exercise
can lower your blood pressure, increase your level of HDL
cholesterol, and improve the overall health of your blood vessels
and heart. It also helps you lose weight and control diabetes, and
can reduce stress. Gradually work up to 30 minutes of activity —
such as walking, jogging, swimming or bicycling — on most, if not
all, days of the week.
Stress can cause a temporary spike in your blood pressure — a risk
factor for brain hemorrhage — or long-lasting hypertension. It can
also increase your blood's tendency to clot, which may elevate your
risk of ischemic stroke. Simplifying your life, exercising and using
relaxation techniques are all approaches that you can learn to
in moderation, if at all.
Alcohol can be both a risk factor and a preventive measure for
stroke. Binge drinking and heavy alcohol consumption increase your
risk of high blood pressure and of ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes.
However, drinking small to moderate amounts of alcohol can increase
your HDL cholesterol and decrease your blood's clotting tendency.
Both factors can contribute to a reduced risk of ischemic stroke.
Many street drugs, such as cocaine, are associated with a definite
risk of a TIA or a stroke.
In addition, eat healthy foods. A brain-healthy diet should include:
Five or more daily
servings of fruits and vegetables, which contain nutrients such as
potassium, folate and antioxidants that may protect you against
Foods rich in
soluble fiber, such as oatmeal and beans.
Foods rich in
calcium, a mineral found to reduce stroke risk.
Soy products such
as tempeh, miso, tofu and soy milk, which can reduce your LDL
cholesterol and raise your HDL cholesterol level.
Foods rich in
omega-3 fatty acids, including cold-water fish, such as salmon,
mackerel and tuna. However, pregnant women and women who plan to
become pregnant in the next several years should limit their weekly
intake of cold-water fish because of the potential for mercury
You obviously can't change some risk factors for a stroke — family
history, age, sex and race. But knowing you're at risk can motivate you
to change your lifestyle to reduce other risks. First-time heart attacks
and strokes are often fatal or disabling; therefore prevention is
critical. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends:
The AHA recommends that all people, beginning at age 20, undergo
risk factor screening that includes recording blood pressure, body
mass index, waist circumference and pulse at least every two years,
and cholesterol and glucose testing at least every five years.
The AHA recommends that doctors estimate each person's percentage
risk of developing cardiovascular disease within the next 10 years.
The estimate would be based on the risk factor screening. The AHA
recommends estimation of risk every five years for people age 40 or
older, or for anyone with two or more risk factors.
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judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and
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