1. Know your blood pressure.
Have it checked at least annually. If it is elevated, work with your doctor to keep it under control. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a leading cause of stroke.
You can check your blood pressure at your doctor's office, at health fairs, at home with an automatic blood pressure machine, or at your local pharmacy or supermarket.
If the higher number (your systolic blood pressure) is consistently above 135 or if the lower number (your diastolic blood pressure) is consistently over 85, consult your doctor.
If your doctor confirms that you have high blood pressure, he or she may recommend some combination of changes in your diet, regular exercise, and medication. Medication for blood pressure has been improved. Once you and your doctor find the right medicine for you, it will almost never cause side effects or interfere with your quality of life.
2. Find out if you have atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an irregular heart beat that changes heart function and allows blood to collect in the chambers of your heart. This blood, which is not moving through your body, tends to clot.
The beating of your heart can move one of these blood clots into your blood stream, and can cause a stroke. Your doctor can diagnose AF by carefully evaluating your pulse. AF can be confirmed or ruled out with a test called an electrocardiogram, which can be done in your doctor's office or at the hospital.
If you have AF, your doctor may choose to lower your risk for stroke by prescribing medicine. Blood thinners such as warfarin or aspirin are the most commonly prescribed treatments.
3. If you smoke, stop.
Smoking doubles the risk for stroke. If you stop smoking today, your risk for stroke will immediately begin to drop. Quitting smoking today can significantly reduce your risk of stroke.
4. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
Studies now show that drinking up to two drinks per day can reduce your risk for stroke by about half. More alcohol than that each day can increase your risk for stroke by as much as three times and also can lead to liver disease, accidents and more. If you drink, it is recommended that you limit yourself to no more than two drinks each day. If you don't drink, don't start.
Remember that alcohol is a drug and can interact with some medications. It's a good idea to ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of the medications you take could interact with alcohol.
5. Find out if you have high cholesterol.
Know your cholesterol number. If your cholesterol is high, you may be at increased risk for stroke. Lowering your cholesterol (if elevated) may reduce your risk for stroke.
High cholesterol can be controlled in many individuals with diet and exercise. Some individuals with elevated cholesterol may require medication.
6. If you are diabetic...
Follow your doctor's recommendations carefully to control your diabetes. Often, diabetes may be controlled through careful attention to what you eat.
Work with your doctor and your dietitian to develop a nutrition program that fits your needs and lifestyle. Your doctor can prescribe lifestyle changes and medicine that can help control your diabetes. Having diabetes puts you at an increased risk for stroke. By controlling your diabetes, you may lower your risk for stroke.
Include exercise in the activities you enjoy in your daily routine. A brisk walk for as little as 30 minutes a day can improve your health in many ways, and may reduce your risk for stroke. Try walking with a friend. That makes it more likely that you'll make it a habit.
If you don't enjoy walking, choose another exercise activity that suits your lifestyle, such as riding a bicycle, playing golf, swimming, dancing, playing tennis, or taking an aerobics class. Make time each day to take care of yourself by exercising.
8. Enjoy a lower sodium (salt), lower fat diet.
By cutting down on sodium and fat in your diet, you may be able to lower your blood pressure and, most importantly, lower your risk for stroke.
Work toward a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, and a moderate amount of protein each day. Adding fiber, such as whole grain bread and cereal products, raw, unpeeled fruits and vegetables and dried beans to the diet can reduce cholesterol levels by 6 to 19 percent.
9. Monitor circulation problems.
Ask your doctor if you have circulation problems, which increase your risk for stroke.
Strokes can be caused by problems with your heart, arteries and veins, or the blood that flows through them. Together, they are your circulation system. Your doctor can check to see if you have problems in the circulation supplying blood to your brain.
Fatty deposits - caused by atherosclerosis or other diseases - can block the arteries, which carry blood from your heart to your brain. These arteries, located on each side of your neck, are called carotid and vertebral arteries. This kind of blockage, if left untreated, can cause a stroke.
You can be tested for this problem by your doctor. Your doctor can listen to your arteries just as he listens to your heart, or look at ultrasound or MRI images.
If you have blood problems such as sickle cell disease, severe anemia, or other diseases, work with your doctor to manage these problems. Left untreated, they can cause stroke. Circulation problems usually can be treated with medications. If your doctor prescribes aspirin, warfarin, ticlopidine, clopidogrel, dipyridamole, or other medicine for circulation problems, take it exactly as prescribed. Occasionally, surgery is necessary to correct circulation problems such as a blocked artery.
Symptoms of a Stroke
If you have any stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately
-- 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 difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
-- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
If you experience any of these symptoms, you may have had a TIA or mini- stroke. Ask your doctor if you can lower your risk for stroke by taking aspirin, or by other means.
February 22, 2005 -- Rowan Regional Medical Center
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