During May, the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, is celebrating American Stroke Month. To mark the occasion, the association is sharing seven habits to help prevent stroke.
Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented by not smoking, making healthy food choices, getting enough physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and treating conditions such as high blood sugar, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
- Don’t smoke. If you smoke, STOP and if you don’t smoke, don’t start! Smoking can increase your blood pressure, among many other health issues and it’s the no. 1 controllable risk factor for stroke. Cigarette smoking, vaping and tobacco products in general, are dangerous for your health. Quitting is one of the best things you can do to improve your health and add years to your life.
- Manage blood pressure. Nothing causes more strokes than uncontrolled high blood pressure. Of the 116.4 million people in the United States who have high blood pressure, fewer than half have it under control, putting them at increased risk of stroke. Lowering your blood pressure by just 20 points could cut your risk of dying from a stroke by half. A good blood pressure should be less than 120/80.
- Be physically active. A good starting goal is at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week, but if you don’t want to sweat the numbers, just move more. Find forms of physical activity you like and will stick with and build more opportunities to be active into your routine. With warmer weather on the way, Spring is a great time to begin a new exercise routine.
- Eat a healthy diet. Healthy eating starts with simple healthy food choices. You don’t need to stop eating your favorite meals, just use substitutions to make them healthier. Learn what to look for at the grocery store, restaurants, your workplace and other eating occasions, so you can confidently make healthy, delicious choices whenever and wherever you eat.
- Maintain a healthy weight. The benefits of maintaining a healthy weight go beyond improved energy and smaller clothing sizes. By losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, you are also likely to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. There’s no magic trick to losing weight and keeping it off, but the majority of people who are successful, modify their eating habits and increase their physical activity.
- Control cholesterol. Having large amounts of LDL cholesterol in the blood, the bad cholesterol, can cause build up and blood clots, which leads to a heart attack or stroke. Reducing your fat intake, especially trans fats, more often found in fried foods and baked goods, can help reduce your cholesterol. Adding more foods with omega-3 fatty acids like fish and nuts, as well as soluble fiber and whey protein helps in managing bad cholesterol.
- Control blood sugar. By managing your diabetes and working with your health care team, you may reduce your risk of stroke. Every two minutes, an adult with diabetes in the United States is hospitalized for a stroke. At age 60, someone with type 2 diabetes and a history of stroke may have a life expectancy that is 12 years shorter than someone without both conditions.
Reduce the Risk of a Recurrent Stroke
Not all strokes can be prevented and people who have had a stroke are at high risk of having a second one. In fact, about one in every four stroke survivors will have a second one. Stroke survivors should work with their doctor on a plan to reduce their secondary stroke risk factors as there may be lifestyle changes and medications, such as aspirin, that may help prevent blood clots and reduce the risk of a second stroke. It is important to talk to your doctor before starting an aspirin regimen, because aspirin may not be appropriate for everyone.
Know the Signs of a Stroke
Each year, almost 800,000 people have a stroke. Knowing how to recognize a stroke emergency is key to getting life-saving medical attention when every minute matters. Use the acronym F.A.S.T. to remember the most common signs of stroke:
- Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?
- Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.”
- Time to Call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital immediately. (Tip: Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.)
Through the American Stroke Association’s Together to End Stroke™ initiative patients and caregivers can find information to prevent, treat and beat stroke. For more information, visit www.StrokeAssociation.org/StrokeMonth.