The Stroke Center at Saint Barnabas
Risk Factors and Prevention
The good news is that you can help in reducing your risk of stroke. While you can’t control risk factors such as age and family history, you can lessen your risk by controlling your weight, blood pressure, diabetes, tobacco and alcohol use.
Those factors that put you at risk for stroke are very similar to the risk factors for a heart attack. It is very important that you and your doctor determine your stroke risk factors.
Stroke risk factors are divided into two categories. Even if you have several uncontrollable risk factors, it is important that you address the ones that you can change or eliminate to decrease your risk for stroke.
Uncontrollable Risk Factors
- Personal history of stroke
- Family history of stroke
- Heart disease, especially atrial fibrillation
Controllable Risk Factors
- Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
- Hypercholesterolemia (High Cholesterol)
- Excessive alcohol intake
The most important thing you can do is to get your blood pressure checked and treated if it is high. The following addresses the most common modifiable risk factors for stroke.
Known as the silent killer, high blood pressure, or hypertension, is the single leading cause of stroke. Hypertension is a chronic disorder, which can often be easily managed with dietary changes and medication. It is however, not curable. It requires a lifetime of management in order to control its negative affects. High blood pressure directly damages the blood vessels and overworks the heart, leading to many complications, including stroke.
If you have been diagnosed with hypertension follow your doctor’s advise. Following the dietary guidelines, such as a low salt, low fat diet, will go a long way in helping you control your blood pressure. Establishing an exercise plan that you are able to complete will also be of benefit. If you have been given a medication to lower your blood pressure it is extremely important that you take the medication as prescribed.
Like hypertension, diabetes mellitus is a controllable, but not curable, chronic disease. In diabetes either your pancreas does not produce enough insulin (or sometimes none at all) or your body is unable to use the insulin your pancreas makes.
Diabetes has both modifiable and nonmodifiable characteristics. All people who have diabetes, whether or not they have good sugar control, are somewhat at risk. Diabetes can often cause damage to the inside of blood vessels, causing the lining to become rough, not smooth as it is normally. This irregular surface increases the likelihood of a build up of plaque and or platelets (blood products), which can then block the blood vessels. The better the control of your blood sugar, the less the risk of stroke. Therefore, it is very, very important that you follow your prescribed diet or meal plan and that you take the medication prescribed for you. If you have never seen a diabetes educator, let the stroke team know. We can arrange for you to have an appointment with the educator. This person can discuss all the important elements of diabetes control.
Hypercholesterolemia (High Cholesterol)
Having an elevation of lipids (fats) in your system goes a long way in increasing your risk for stroke.
Cholesterol, particularly the LDL (bad cholesterol) builds up in the walls of the blood vessels in your brain, and elsewhere in your body much like wax can build up on a kitchen floor. When this buildup occurs, the blood flow to the area of the brain that the affected blood vessel is supplies is reduced. When the blockage reaches a certain level, a stroke can occur. Much like hypertension, and diabetes, managing your cholesterol is done through dietary changes and possibly medication. If you have been prescribed a diet to control your cholesterol level, be sure you are following the guidelines correctly. Even if you are on medication to reduce your cholesterol, you still need to mange your diet appropriately. The medications will not work if you eat a high fat, high cholesterol diet. A nutritionist is available to guide you with meal planning and making the necessary changes in your eating habits.
Have your cholesterol levels checked and know the numbers. It is important to know not only the total cholesterol level but the HDL and LDL levels as well. HDL (the good cholesterol) actually helps clean out your vessels. LDL (the bad cholesterol) helps to block the arteries. All these levels are drawn routinely on all of our patients and we will make those available to you.
It is a well know fact that smoking puts us at risk for many diseases. Many people don’t think about smoking and stroke but smoking indeed can increase your chances of having a stroke. Smoking again causes direct damage to the blood vessels and can increase the possibility of blockage occurring in the brain’s blood vessels. If you need help with stopping, let one of the stroke team members know. We will work with you to develop the best “stop smoking” program for you.
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