Worldwide, it is estimated that 15 million people have a stroke each year; among these one-third die and one-third are left with a significant disability.
Fortunately, it cannot be said that having a stroke was just “a stroke of bad luck.” Multiple health conditions are associated with strokes, and the majority occur in someone with one or more of risks factors. The sad story is that an estimated 60% are not aware that they have a risk for stroke and may only learn of it AFTER their stroke. A person who embarks on a preventive approach to health may avert this drastic life change and support a state of wellness – free of chronic diseases. If you have the following conditions, consider developing a plan to make your health a priority.
Stroke Risk factors
- High Blood Pressure
- Diabetes mellitus
- Atrial fibrillation
- High hematocrit
- Sleep apnea
- Carotid and Coronary artery disease
- Regular alcohol intake
- Stimulant drug use
How to Prevent the First Stroke
It might be useful, and even more accurate, to look at the conditions above as “signs” of a disease, rather than as separate diseases. We sometimes address them as separate health issues, requiring separate treatments. When the body is in a decompensated state, many findings materialize. In this manner, the following recommendations summarize an approach that will not only reduce your risk for a stroke but for any of the conditions.
1.Make physical activity a priority. Inactivity is hazardous to your health.
Activity decreases the risk of a stroke. The vascular system is protected by exercise, including lowering blood pressure and improving aerobic conditioning of the heart. It also has profound brain health benefits, including lowering stress hormones and general stress levels. Consider daily exercise in your efforts. Start with a few short walks daily after meals and build up from there.
2. Take the plunge toward eating natural foods, largely plant-based diet.
Processed foods are heavily concentrated carbohydrate sources, simple (table sugar) or complex (flour). Lost in the processing steps are fiber and water. When these foods enter the body, the sugars are more easily absorbed and exert an effect on our vascular system, leading to high triglycerides and inflammation. When the food is natural, even if it is fruit or whole grains, the fiber delays more rapid absorption of glucose and has a protective effect on our gut microbiome.
A plant-based diet provides a greater surface area and amount of food, often creating a greater sense of satiety with less cravings. There is less insulin required and the body begins to work on the fat stores, gradually bringing someone closer to an optimal weight.
3. Limit alcohol or sugary drinks, including soda, juice, and milk
Alcohol and sugary drinks allow for a rapid absorption of glucose into the liver. A significant amount of simple sugars can have negative effects on the entire body, and lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, including hardening of the arteries, liver disease, diabetes, gout, and high triglycerides. Additionally, alcohol causes direct injury and inflammation to the liver and vascular system.
4. Get screened for risk factors by a clinician.
Unfortunately, the body’s ability to compensate can sometimes cover up developing dis-ease. Nearly twenty percent of adults with high blood pressure weren’t aware of this diagnosis. About one-third of adults with diabetes still don’t know they have it. A clinician can determine if you are at risk or have a chronic condition with a check-up. This includes a good physical exam, body measurements (weight, Body Mass Index (BMI), neck and waist circumference), and bloodwork (triglycerides, fasting glucose, hemoglobin A1c, blood count, liver tests and kidney function). Further tests such as an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, and a sleep study may be performed, if you are found to have any concerns on the initial screening.
If you have high blood pressure, and the other factors are being addressed, you may require blood pressure lowering medications. Since many times blood pressure changes are secondary to a disease state caused by obesity, sometimes addressing the primary reason will mitigate or resolve the hypertension.
5. Remember a sound mind in a sound body.
Did you know that people who have a type-A personality may have a two-fold higher risk of stroke? Whatever degree of influence stress may have on your life, many studies support a stress can negatively impact health. Stress, whether real or perceived, triggers hormones and neurotransmitters to accelerate the heart, increase blood pressure, and cause a host of other effects of the body. These are intended for you to face a threat head on or escape from it. In more extreme or prolonged states, stress can even be lethal. Try to see if there is way to simplify your life, either by modifying your approach to stress or by simplifying your life. Even a reduction in your use of technology can open up more time for you in the day to nurture yourself. Your health requires attention to not only the body, but also the state of mind, emotional wellness, and the environment around you.
Please refer to How to Prevent the First (and Next) Stroke page for a much more detailed review of each of the risk factors. The other “In a Nutshell pages” also provide the blueprint in which you can begin to embark of a health journey. You may find Pepe Finds His Way a useful journal of a health journey. Please feel free to share this site and page with your contacts. Your Health Forum strives to make information available and accessible to the people that can use it.
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This is a pictorial sketch on what happens when a stroke occurs. Colin Horner