Stroke Prevention (cont.)
In this Article
- What is a Stroke?
- What are Warning Signs of a Stroke?
- What are Risk Factors for a Stroke?
- What Are the Treatable Risk Factors?
- Do You Know Your Stroke Risk?
What are Risk Factors for a Stroke?
A risk factor is a condition or behavior that occurs more frequently in those who have, or are at greater risk of getting, a disease than in those who don't. Having a risk factor for stroke doesn't mean you'll have a stroke. On the other hand, not having a risk factor doesn't mean you'll avoid a stroke. But your risk of stroke grows as the number and severity of risk factors increases.
Stroke occurs in all age groups, in both sexes, and in all races in every country. It can even occur before birth, when the fetus is still in the womb. In African-Americans, stroke is more common and more deadly--even in young and middle-aged adults--than for any ethnic or other racial group in the United States. Scientists have found more and more severe risk factors in some minority groups and continue to look for patterns of stroke in these groups.
What Are the Treatable Risk Factors?
Some of the most important treatable risk factors for stroke are:
- High blood pressure. Also called
hypertension, this is
by far the most potent risk factor for stroke. If your blood pressure is high, you and your
doctor need to work out an individual strategy to bring it down to the normal
range. Some ways that work: Maintain proper weight. Avoid drugs known to raise
blood pressure. Cut down on salt. Eat fruits and vegetables to increase
potassium in your diet.
Exercise more. Your doctor may prescribe medicines that help lower blood
pressure. Controlling blood pressure will also help you avoid
- Cigarette smoking.
Cigarette smoking has been linked to the buildup of
fatty substances in the carotid artery, the
main neck artery supplying blood to the brain. Blockage of this artery is the
leading cause of stroke in Americans. Also,
nicotine raises blood pressure;
carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen your blood can carry to the brain;
and cigarette smoke makes your blood thicker and more likely to clot. Your
doctor can recommend programs and medications that may help you quit smoking. By
quitting, at any age, you also reduce your risk of lung disease, heart disease,
and a number of cancers including lung cancer.
- Heart disease. Common heart disorders such as coronary
artery disease, valve defects, irregular heart beat, and enlargement of one of
the heart's chambers can result in
blood clots that may break loose and block vessels in or
leading to the brain. The most common blood vessel disease, caused by the
buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries, is called
doctor will treat your heart disease and may also prescribe medication, such as
aspirin, to help
prevent the formation of clots. Your doctor may recommend surgery to clean out a
clogged neck artery if you match a particular risk profile. If you are over 50,
NINDS scientists believe you and your doctor should make a decision about
aspirin therapy. A doctor can evaluate your risk factors
and help you decide if you will benefit from aspirin or other blood-thinning
- Warning signs or history of stroke. If you experience a
TIA, get help at
once. Many communities encourage those with stroke's warning signs to dial 911
for emergency medical assistance. If you have had a stroke in the past, it's
important to reduce your risk of a second stroke. Your brain helps you recover
from a stroke by drawing on body systems that now do double duty. That means a
second stroke can be twice as bad.
- Diabetes. You may think this disorder affects only the body's ability to use sugar, or glucose. But it also causes destructive changes in the blood vessels throughout the body, including the brain. Also, if blood glucose levels are high at the time of a stroke, then brain damage is usually more severe and extensive than when blood glucose is well-controlled. Treating diabetes can delay the onset of complications that increase the risk of stroke.
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