Have you had weakness or numbness in your arms, face or legs? Have you had trouble talking or walking? What about vision problems, headaches, dizziness and loss of coordination? These are all signs of a stroke. Every year, at least 795,000 Americans will experience one or more of these symptoms prior to or during a stroke, and approximately 130,000 of those Americans will die--but this doesn't have to be. While family history, age, gender and race may increase a person's risk of having a stroke, lifestyle is the biggest predictor. This means that just by adjusting your habits, you can reduce your chances of suffering a stroke. Sound all too simple? Well, it is.
How to Prevent a Stroke
A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked, or when a blood vessel bursts in the brain, causing a violent bodily reaction. Smokers and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease are at great risk, and depending on what part of the brain is involved, you could have permanent loss of motor skills, speech or cognitive function.
But by modifying your lifestyle, you can cut your chances of having a stroke in half, according to some experts. And even if you've had a stroke before--which by the way makes you 10 times more likely of having another in your lifetime--there are ways you can prevent another from occurring. Here's how:
1. Watch your blood pressure. Untreated high blood pressure damages your arteries, which can cause the vessels in the brain to burst or clot. If your blood pressure is high, you might need to exercise more, reduce your salt intake and trade burgers for vegetables. Blood pressure medications might also be required.
2. Deal with diabetes. Long-term high blood sugar damages your blood vessels, upping the chances of poor circulation, high blood pressure and blood clots, which can increase your risk for stroke. If you have diabetes, follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding care. This means monitoring your blood sugar levels and taking medications as prescribed. Also, it is important that you exercise and eat a low-carb diet.
3. Lose weight and exercise. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke. Excess weight and being physically inactive can lead not only to high blood pressure, but diabetes and high cholesterol--all of which increase a person's chance of having a stroke. By exercising and maintaining a nutritious diet, you can cut your risk of having a stroke in half.
4. Quit smoking. Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke makes the blood thicker and more liable to clot. If the clot(s) block blood flow to the brain, a stroke can occur. Chemicals found in cigarettes may also cause plaque buildup in the blood vessels that lead to the brain.
5. Drink in moderation. Some studies have shown that people who have one alcoholic drink per day may have a lower stroke risk. Alcohol works by relaxing the blood vessels, allowing for more blood to flow to the body's organs. But having more than one alcoholic beverage can have the opposite effect and can lead to organ damage. Red wine seems to be the most brain- and heart- friendly alcohol drink, according to some experts. If you’ve had a previous alcohol addiction or are at risk for alcoholism, you should skip this step altogether.
6. Take aspirin. The Women’s Health Initiative Study concluded that women over 65 can lower their risk of stroke by taking a baby aspirin every day. Because aspirin works as a blood thinner, it can help prevent blood clots. But before you start a daily aspirin regimen, you should consult with your doctor first.
7. Treat other conditions. Certain conditions can make having a stroke more likely. For instance, atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat, can cause blood clots to form in the heart, then travel to the brain. If you have atrial fibrillation, you are five times more likely to suffer a stroke. Obstructive sleep apnea also increases stroke risk. Talk to your doctor about treatment options.