According to the American Stroke Association 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke every year, with about three in four being first-time strokes. Stroke is now the No. 5 cause of death in the country.
Only about 10 percent of stroke victims recover almost completely while 25 percent recover with minor impairments, 40 percent suffer moderate to severe impairments requiring special care and 10 percent require care in a nursing home or other long-term care facility. Unfortunately, 15 percent die shortly after having a stroke.
While age and genetics makes us more susceptible to having a stroke, experts say there are steps you can take to prevent one.
“There are many stroke factors you can control, provided you are aware pf them,” says Dr. Natalia Rost, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and associate director of the Acute Stroke Service at Massachusetts General Hospital. “If you know that a particular risk factor is sabotaging your health and predisposing you to a higher risk of stroke, you can take steps to alleviate the effects of that risk.”
Here, according to experts at Harvard Medical School, are six ways you can prevent a stroke:
- Lower blood pressure. Having high blood pressure can quadruple your stroke risk if it is not controlled. “High blood pressure is the biggest contributor to the risk of stroke in both men and women,” says Dr. Rost. Monitor your blood pressure, reduce dietary salt, eat 4 to 5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily and get more exercise. If you smoke, quit.
- Lose weight. Obesity, as well as the complications linked to it such as high blood pressure and diabetes, raises your odds of having a stoke. Even a modest 10-pound weight loss can reduce your stroke risk.
- Exercise more. Aim for moderate intensity activity at least five times a week to lower your stroke risk, Walking, joining a health club, taking the stairs instead of the elevator are a few easy suggestions.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. While drinking a little alcohol may reduce your risk of stroke, Dr. Rost says that consuming more than two drinks daily can increase your risk sharply.
- Treat atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is a form of irregular heart beat that causes clots to form in the heart. Those clots can travel to the brain, producing a stroke. A-fib can increase your risk of stroke fivefold, says Dr. Rost, so make sure you seek treatment if you have symptoms such as heart palpitations or shortness of breath.
- Treat diabetes. Having high blood sugar damages blood vessels over time, making clots more likely to form inside of them. Monitor your blood sugar as directed by your doctor and use diet, exercise and medication to keep it under control.
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