Stroke Prevention: Five Ways to Sidestep Danger - NBC New York

Stroke Prevention: Five Ways to Sidestep Danger



    May is Stroke Awareness Month, and if you only become aware of a single fact about stroke this month, let it be this one: stroke is preventable.

    There are many things that you can do to significantly reduce your risk of stroke, and here are a few examples.

    Lower your blood pressure
    High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke, and it's a problem you can do something about. Oftentimes, people with high blood pressure don't even know they have it, since the condition doesn't have any symptoms. So if you suspect you may have high blood pressure because it runs in your family, or if you just don't know, have it checked the next time you see your doctor.

    If your blood pressure is high, you can often lower it by losing weight, reducing the fat in your diet, or reducing overall calories. If there is a lot of salt in your diet, cutting back also plays an important role in lowering blood pressure.

    For some, dietary changes are not enough to adequately lower their blood pressure, and medication is required. Speak with your doctor if you find that lifestyle changes are not proving effective.

    Say goodbye to cigarettes
    Smoking increases one's risk of stroke 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 that there is a lot of good scientific data that shows that people who quit smoking can reduce their risk of stroke.

    Use your alcohol wisely
    Let's start with the good news about booze. 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 completed a study in which we found that moderate alcohol use is associated with a significantly decreased risk of ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke.

    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 their risk. Of course, these studies are not implying that physicians should recommend that their patients have two drinks a day in order to reduce 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.

    Get some exercise
    You don't have to be a marathon runner to benefit from exercise. Walking briskly for twenty minutes a day, three days a week, can reduce your risk of stroke, improve your entire cardiovascular profile, and positively affect your cholesterol levels.

    Bring down the cholesterol
    Elevated levels of HDL, the "good cholesterol", can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. The other type of cholesterol, LDL, can build up in arteries and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.

    Most people can successfully alter their cholesterol levels with healthy dietary habits, thereby reducing their risk. However, some people, regardless of diet, require cholesterol-reducing medications.

    A great number of strokes could be prevented each year if people made some of the lifestyle changes outlined above. Know the risk factors for stroke, and do what you can to modify your lifestyle. And if you need medications, don't forget to take them as prescribed. Remember, even small changes can make big differences.