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Stroke Risk Factors You Can Control

Medicine has come a long way towards improving our overall health and increasing how long we are able to live. Regardless of advancements in medicine, not taking care of yourself can increase the chances of being afflicted with something that healthy living could have prevented.

One of the biggest worries, as we age, is the possibility of a stroke. Doctors advise there are a few key factors we can work on to decrease the chances of having a stroke. Here is a list of things you should get under control if you haven’t already:

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1. Get a Handle on High Blood Pressure

“Lowering blood pressure can reduce the risk of both hemorrhagic strokes (bleeding in the brain) and ischemic strokes (blocked arteries causing a lack of blood supply to brain tissue),” states Dr. Susan A. Catto, MD, co-director of the Stroke Program at Beaumont Hospital located in Royal Oaks, Mich. “The mortality rates from stroke rise with each elevation in systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure. After a first stroke, the risk of a second stroke can be reduced by 28 percent by reducing blood pressure by 10 points systolic.”

2. Cut Your Cholesterol

Admittedly, this is one thing my PCP (primary care provider) has told me I needed to work on.

According to Danielle Haskins, MD, medical director of the Stroke Center in Livingston, N.J.’s Saint Barnabas Medical Center, “elevated cholesterol levels are associated with increased atherosclerotic disease, which is when cholesterol plaques build up on the walls of medium-to-large arteries.” She goes on to add that “this then narrows the arteries, which cause blood clots to form. If these clots were to break loose, they could travel through the arteries to the brain and potentially cause a stroke.”

Dr. Haskins says that “a healthy diet, daily exercise, and medication can reduce blood cholesterol levels and help maintain healthy arteries.”

3. Manage Your Diabetes

This particular disease affects more people than one would initially think. It also makes your body vulnerable to developing conditions, such as stroke. Dr. Haskins says, “Elevated blood sugar damages the small vessels that carry blood to the brain. This damage is worsened if you also have the uncontrolled high blood pressure. In addition, elevated blood sugars can accelerate the formation of cholesterol plaques in the larger arteries, further increasing stroke risk.”

4. Drop a Few Pounds

For some, this is easier said than done, which is why you should always consult your doctor before adopting any new change in activities with this goal in minds.

Dr. Daniel Labovits, MD, an assistant professor of neurology says “Excess weight puts a strain on the body and on the heart. Being overweight increases risks of diabetes increases blood pressure, and often increases cholesterol levels, all of which increase the risk of stroke.

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5. Get Some Exercise

If you plan on losing weight, the best way for anyone is to begin an exercise regimen.

“Daily exercise reduces risks of stroke dramatically,” explains Dr. Labovitz. “Exercising for 30 minutes a day – hard enough to breathe through the mouth and get a little sweaty – has powerful effects on the health of the heart, blood vessels, and brain.”

Dr. Labovitz also says it helps to see both your exercise and prescribed medication as equally important.

If you have trouble motivating yourself, ask a friend or family to join you and get healthier together.

6. Manage Atrial Fibrillation

Defined as a quivering or irregular heartbeat, it is important to work your primary care provider and develop a plan for managing your symptoms.

“Because blood flow through the heart is affected by the irregular rhythm, clots can form within the heart and then break loose and travel into the bloodstream,” maintains Labovitz. “If they travel into the brain, they can block an artery and cause a stroke. Older people with atrial fibrillation usually have to take medication to prevent the formation of dangerous blood clots.”

7. Quit Smoking

According to Matthew D. Vibbert, MD, this is one thing that people can do now to guarantee better health. “It is the single most important thing you can do to reduce stroke risk and extend your life.”

Not only will you be reducing your chances of stroke, but you’ll also be saving yourself thousands of dollars a year.

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