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Stroke Prevention-Six Ways to Stay Stroke-Free

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Updated July 20, 2008

Stroke Prevention-Six Ways to Stay Stroke-Free
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Stroke Physicians often emphasize the importance of stroke prevention, as this is the best way to deal with the pain and suffering that even a single stroke can bring to a person and his or her family. Yet, although stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, only a small percentage of Americans is able to name even a few of the diseases and unhealthy habits that can increase a person's risk of having a stroke. Here you will find six important tips that can help you improve your chances of never suffering a stroke.

1. Find Out if You Suffer From High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a potent risk factor for stroke, but it almost never produces detectable symptoms. In fact, for some unfortunate people, the first symptom of high blood pressure is a stroke. Don't let this happen to you.

No matter how well you feel, you should find out whether you suffer from this insidious condition. If you don't visit a physician routinely, go to nearest pharmacy and have them take your blood pressure. If the higher number (systolic) is more than 135, or if the lower one (diastolic) is more than 90, you should go to a doctor to be evaluated for high blood pressure. Lifestyle changes and perhaps medication may be in order to bring your blood pressure back into the normal range.

2. Find Out if You Have Diabetes

Like high blood pressure, diabetes does not cause any obvious symptoms until it is in its advanced stages. In fact, it is estimated that most people with diabetes have had the disease several years before they are diagnosed.

If you have not done so recently, go to a doctor and get your blood sugar checked. This is especially important if you are overweight or if other people in your family have diabetes.

Not sure if you're overweight? Determine your BMI.

3. Quit Smoking

If you have a family history of stroke or any other stroke risk factors, such as high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, quitting smoking can significantly reduce your stroke risk. Of course, this is also the case if you do not have any other risk factors for stroke, as smoking is often the only identifiable risk factor in people who have suffered one.

Here are a few tips for easier quitting.

  • Start preparing mentally for quitting a few months before you plan to stop smoking.

  • Lower your nicotine intake slowly to give your body time to adjust.

  • Slowly detach yourself from the places where you normally smoke, and clean your belongings so that the smell of cigarette is completely gone by the time you enact your plan to quit.

  • Use nicotine patches or gum -- they work for many people.

  • Focus on being healthy, and understand that living with a stroke is a lot more difficult than living without cigarettes.

4. Lose Weight and Exercise

If you are overweight, losing a few pounds is an excellent way to minimize your stroke risk. Eating less and eating healthy is the most effective way to accomplish this, especially when combined with physical activity. Even a brisk walk for half an hour or so per day can help you lose weight and decrease your chances of ever suffering a stroke.

What can you do to lose weight this time around? Here are a two easy-to-remember tips:

  • Go slowly
    Lose 2, 3, or 4 lbs. in one month, not 10 or 20. Most people who lose weight too fast gain the weight right back.

  • Weigh yourself regularly
    This will keep you focused and motivated as you keep track of each pound that comes off.

5. Know And Understand Your Cholesterol Levels

Low density lipoprotein (LDL) is the bad kind of cholesterol and a reliable marker of heart disease and stroke.

Your "normal" LDL level will depend on your overall health and predisposition to heart disease. You are considered predisposed to heart disease if you have more than one of the related risk factors, including:

  • you smoke
  • you have a first-degree relative with heart disease
  • you are over age 45 (for men) or 55 (for women)
  • you have low HDL ("good") cholesterol
So, for example, if you are a healthy individual with little or no predisposition for heart disease, your LDL cholesterol should be less than 160. But if you have 2 of the risk factors mentioned above, then that level is 130. For people with more than 2 risk factors, the normal LDL level is 100.

6. Eat a Healthy Diet

Eating a healthy diet is probably the most effective way of keeping a low stroke risk, because it can protect you from developing high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and more. What does "eating healthy" really mean? Here are four quick tips you can go by to ensure healthy eating.
  • Eat small portions
    Eating more than the body requires forces your metabolism to store the extra calories and increases your body weight.

  • Eat salt in moderation
    Salt makes the body retain fluid, which in turn increases your blood pressure. Try to eliminate sources of excessive salt from your diet, such as canned foods or soy sauce.

  • Make unhealthy meals the exception, not the rule
    Keep your urges for fried foods and other delicious, but not-so-healthy dishes under control, and maintain a healthy diet otherwise. Make fast food, if you crave it, an only occasional splurge.

  • If you drink, do so in moderation
    It has been suggested that wine may actually help reduce stroke risk. But don't reach for that bottle just yet. While studies hint that 1 to 2 glasses of wine per day may be helpful in reducing risk, further studies are needed. Like anything else, alcohol should be consumed in moderation.

Sources:
Grundy SM, Cleeman JI, Bairey Merz CN, et al. Implications of recent clinical trials for the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines. Circulation. 2004;110:227-239.
Lichtenstein, Alice H., et al., Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations Revision 2006, A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee, Circulation. 2006;114:82-96.
Mohr, J.P.; Choi, Dennis W.; Grotta, James C.; Weir, Bryce; Wolfe, Phillip A. Stroke: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, and Management Churchill Livingstone; 4th edition (2004).

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