According to the National Stroke Association, a stroke or "brain attack" is the third leading cause of death in America and a leading cause of adult disability. Since up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable, knowing what you can do to reduce your risk is very important.
Everyone has some risks of stroke due to age, gender, race, and family history that can't be changed. These uncontrollable risks make it is even more important to control the risk factors that you can. According to a recent international analysis report, people that eat fish a couple times a week have a slightly smaller risk of suffering a stroke compared to those individuals that do not. The Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans increase the amount and variety of seafood they consume by choosing more seafood each week as a protein source in place of other meat and poultry options. Fish provides a variety of beneficial nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and selenium. Any or all of these nutrients could be the key to reducing stroke. Regardless of the reasoning, the analysis found that people who ate the most fish were 12 percent less likely to have a stroke compared to those people that ate the least.
Here are seven other key ways to reduce your stroke risk in addition to including more fish in your diet.
- Control your blood pressure – High blood pressure or hypertension puts stress on the heart that can weaken vessels and damage major organs. Untreated hypertension can lead to stroke. While a blood pressure of 120/80 or below is optimal, maintaining a blood pressure below 140/90 is important to reduce unhealthy complications.
- Identify irregular heartbeat – Some people experience heart palpitations, sudden pounding, fluttering, or racing sensations in the chest that could be described as feeling like butterflies. These sensations as well as dizziness or feeling light-headed could indicate the presence of arterial fibrillation (AF). About 15 percent of people that have a stroke also have atrial fibrillation. Since the only way to confirm the presence of AF is through an electrocardiogram, it is important to let your medical provider know if you experience any AF symptoms, so further testing can be completed.
- Avoid smoking – Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen carried in the blood causing the heart to work harder. It also increases build-up in the arteries that restricts blood flow especially to the brain causing a doubled risk for a stroke in smokers compared to nonsmokers. Weight gain can be one reason people resist giving up the smoking habit. Although research says the majority of adults gain an average of five to eight pounds when they kick the cigarette habit, with some planning, education and insight, it is not an inevitable consequence. There are tools and techniques you can use to keep the scale steady while decreasing your risk of stroke.
- Control your cholesterol - Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance that serves as a building block of body cells and hormones, nervous system, and is necessary for metabolism. In moderate amounts, it is essential to good health. When levels are too high, plaque builds up in the arteries that can block normal blood flow to the heart and brain, which increases the risk of heart attack, atherosclerosis, and stroke. A healthy diet and exercise plan that allows you to reach and maintain a healthy weight can reduce your cholesterol and your risk of stroke. Have your cholesterol checked and set a goal to maintain a total cholesterol level below 200.
- Control diabetes – People with diabetes are nearly 4 times more likely to suffer a stroke compared to those that do not have the disease. Many times this is because people with diabetes also have hypertension, atrial fibrillation, or high cholesterol in addition to high blood glucose levels. Managing diabetes and maintaining healthy A1C levels can not only reduce stroke risk but also limit brain damage effects if a stroke does occur.
- Be physically active - Regular exercise is one of the most important components of a healthy lifestyle and an important part of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. It is also a key to reducing stroke risk. Walking is an ideal form of exercise that nearly everyone can do. If walking isn't ideal, find another aerobic option such as bicycling, swimming, rollerblading, or dancing. No matter what options you choose, aim for a minimum of 3 days per week with no more than 2 days off between sessions and at least 20 minutes per day. You can even break that up into two ten minute sessions if that works better into your daily routine. Find out what works best for you and then stick with it.
- Eat a healthy diet - Selecting meals and snacks that include more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein including fish, and high fiber foods while limiting high sodium options, solid fats and added sugars is a great way to reach and maintain a healthy weight while also reducing health risks including stroke.
Use this Stroke Score Card to identify your specific areas of risk and then establish goals for problem areas to reduce your risk. Stroke symptoms include:
If you experience one of more of these symptoms and you are alone, call 9-1-1 so a trained professional can evaluate you. Note the time you experienced your first symptom. This information is important to your healthcare provider and can affect treatment decisions.
- Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm, or leg – especially on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
If you are with someone that is exhibiting any of these symptoms, use these signs of a stroke so you can act FAST.
- F ace: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
- Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
- Time: if you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
You can also download the FAST Wallet Card to keep a reminder of stroke warning signs with you wherever you go!
What have you learned today that you will use to reduce your risk of stroke? Will you share this information with others so they can reduce their stroke risk?