Stroke is the term used to describe the effects
of an interruption of the blood supply to a localised area of the brain. The
brain is the nerve centre of the body, controlling everything we do or think, as
well as controlling automatic functions like breathing. In order to work, the
brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients. These are carried to the
brain by blood through the arteries. If part of the brain is deprived of blood,
brain cells are damaged or die. This causes a number of different effects,
depending on the part of the brain affected and the amount of damage to brain
1. Know your blood
- 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
- 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, s/he 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
3. If you smoke, stop.
- 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
- 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 an
EKG which can probably be done in your
- 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.
- 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 from this
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 this 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, we recommend that you limit yourself to no more than two drinks each day,
and if you don't drink, don't start!
Remember that alcohol is a drug and it can interact with some medications. It's
a good idea to ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of the medications you are
taking could interact with alcohol.
5. Find out if you have
- 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
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 your lifestyle.
- Your doctor can prescribe lifestyle changes and medicine that can help control
- 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
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; this will make it more likely that you'll make it a
If you don't enjoy walking, choose another exercise activity that suits your
lifestyle; bicycle, golf, swim, dance, play tennis, or take 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
- Work towards 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. 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 (pump), arteries and veins
(tubes), or the blood which flows through them. Together, they are your
circulation. 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 stroke.
- You can be tested for this problem by your doctor. Your doctor can listen to
your arteries just as s/he listens to your heart, or look at ultrasound or MRI
- 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, these
can cause stroke.
- Circulation problems can usually 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
Learn to recognize a stroke and act
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm
or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of
balance or coordination
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Who is at risk?
A number of different factors increase the risk of stroke,
including: o Untreated high blood pressure (hypertension). This damages the
walls of the arteries.
Sources: The Stroke Association, American Stroke Association
and National Stroke Association
o Atrial fibrillation. This type of irregular heartbeat increases the
risk of blood clots forming in the heart, which may then dislodge and travel to
o A previous TIA (stroke). Around one in five people who have a first
full stroke have had one or more previous TIAs. o Diabetes. People with diabetes
are more likely to have high blood pressure and atherosclerosis, and so are at
much higher risk of stroke.
o Smoking. This has a number of adverse effects on the arteries and is
linked to higher blood pressure. o Regular heavy drinking. Over time this raises
blood pressure, while an alcohol binge can raise blood pressure to dangerously
high levels and may trigger a burst blood vessel in the brain.
o Certain types of combined oral contraceptive pill. These can make the
blood stickier and more likely to clot. They may also raise blood pressure.
o Diet. A diet high in salt is linked to high blood pressure, while a
diet high in fatty, sugary foods is linked to furring and narrowing of the
o Age. Strokes are more common in people over 55, and the incidence
continues to rise with age. This may be because atherosclerosis takes a long
time to develop and arteries become less elastic with age, increasing the risk
of high blood pressure.
o Gender. Men are at a higher risk of stroke than women, especially under
the age of 65.
o Family history. Having a close relative with stroke increases the risk,
possibly because factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes tend to run in
o Ethnic background. Asians, Africans, American Indians or African-Caribbeans are at greater risk. The reasons are not yet fully understood
but are partly linked to factors like diabetes, which is more common in Asians,
and high blood pressure, which is more common in people of African descent.
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