Strokes are the 5th leading cause of death in the United States. Strokes happen when the brain’s oxygen supply is cut off, destroying vital nerve cells. In the U.S., 795,000 people have a stroke every year and about 14,000 of them die. And although there are some uncontrollable risk factors associated with strokes, such as age, gender (men have a higher risk than women), and family history, there are various underlying factors that can be controlled and prevented.
There are two types of strokes. The most common is an ischemic stroke, which happens when the blood flow is blocked and not enough oxygen is able to get to the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke is usually caused by high blood pressure and happens when the artery supplying blood and oxygen to the brain bursts because of a weakness in the vessel wall.
Here are six things you can do to help prevent strokes:
1. Lower Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can double your stroke risk if it is not controlled, and it is the biggest contributor to the risk of stroke in both men and women. The ideal blood pressure goal is less 135/85. Here are tips to reduce blood pressure:
• Reduce the sodium in your diet to no more than 1,500 milligrams a day (about a half teaspoon).
• Avoid high-cholesterol foods, such as burgers, cheese and ice cream.
• Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
• Get at least 30 minutes of activity a day.
• Quit smoking.
• Take blood pressure support supplements (always check with your healthcare provider first).
2. Lose Weight
Obesity, as well as the complications linked to it (including high blood pressure and diabetes), raises your odds of having a stroke. If you’re overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can have a real impact on your stroke risk.
Exercise contributes to losing weight and lowering blood pressure, but studies have shown that exercise on its own helps reduce stroke risk.
4. Treat Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is a form of irregular heartbeat that causes clots to form in the heart. Those clots can then travel to the brain, producing a stroke and carries almost a five-fold risk of stroke. If you have symptoms such as heart palpitations or shortness of breath, see your doctor for an exam.
5. Treat Diabetes
Having high blood sugar damages blood vessels over time, making clots more likely to form inside them. Monitor your blood sugar as directed by your doctor. Use diet, exercise and medicines to keep your blood sugar within the recommended range.
6. Quit Smoking
Smoking accelerates clot formation by thickening your blood and increasing the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries. Other than healthy diet and regular exercise, smoking cessation is one of the most impactful lifestyle changes that will reduce stroke risk.
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