5 Stroke Risk Factors Under Your Control

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Genetics and family history can impact your stroke risk.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. It’s a leading cause of disability and death for U.S. residents, according to the American Stroke Association.

“For every five people who suffer a stroke, one will die, one will recover fully, and the other three will be left disabled,” notes neurologist Bradford Worrall, MD. “Stroke is the number one reason why an adult goes into a nursing home.”

Unfortunately, you can’t control all stroke risk factors, such as:

  • Age: Strokes can occur at any age, but they’re most common in people over 65, the CDC notes
  • Race and ethnicity: Blacks have the highest stroke-related death rate, and death rates among Hispanics have increased since 2013
  • Family history: Your genes can put you at a higher risk for several conditions that cause stroke

Stroke Prevention: Focus on These 5 Risk Factors

Worrall points out that providers can try to reverse strokes as they’re happening with clot-busting drugs and other therapies. “But avoiding a stroke in the first place is a much more effective way to limit the devastating effects. Benjamin Franklin’s advice that ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ absolutely holds true for stroke.”

These major risk factors can influence each other, and they’re under your control.

Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is the biggest risk factor for stroke, especially if it’s untreated. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can more than double your risk of stroke. Get your blood pressure checked regularly at the doctor. Lifestyle changes can help lower blood pressure, like:

  • Reducing the sodium in your diet
  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing stress
  • Exercising more

If your blood pressure is still high even after making positive lifestyle changes and your doctor prescribes medicine, take it even if you feel fine.

Smoking

Smoking doubles the risk of stroke. Not only does it damage blood vessels and clog arteries, but it also raises blood pressure and puts extra strain on the heart. So if you smoke, now is the time to make a plan to stop.

Cholesterol

Blood cholesterol clogs arteries and can cause stroke. There are usually no symptoms of high cholesterol, so get your numbers checked regularly. If your total cholesterol is more than 200, you can take steps to lower it naturally by:

  • Eating healthier
  • Exercising
  • Quitting smoking
  • Losing weight
  • Reducing stress

Sometimes lifestyle changes are not enough to lower your cholesterol to a healthy level. When that occurs, you may need medication.

Learn Stroke Symptoms

Anyone can have a stroke. If you recognize these symptoms of stroke, call 911 immediately.

Excess weight

Being overweight is hard on your heart, blood vessels and arteries. Losing just 5-10% of your weight can lower your stroke risk. Help control your weight by eating healthy and exercising. Getting enough sleep and reducing stress can also help you lose or maintain weight.

Alcohol use

If you drink, do so only in moderation. Some studies show that moderate consumption of alcohol (1 drink a day) can lower your stroke risk. But if you drink more than that, your risk goes up quickly.

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