Controlling some risk factors may be a matter of you making up your mind to change some of your everyday routines while others may require a form of medical intervention. Stroke is a preventable brain attack, but you must make steps to minimize your risk of stroke. It is very important that you know and understand your risk factors. If you have questions about these risk factors, please consult your primary care physician as soon as possible. The most common modifiable risk factors are:
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): High blood pressure is the single most important risk factor of stroke. Elevated blood pressure promotes atherosclerosis (thickening of arterial walls) and puts added stress on blood vessel walls. Hypertension can go unnoticed because there may be no obvious symptoms. It is important to regularly check and control your blood pressure. A healthy reading is about 120/80. Readings consistently above 140/90 indicate your blood pressure is in the danger zone.
You can help keep your blood pressure in check by limiting your intake of sodium (which is found in abundance in many processed foods like cold cuts, canned soup and frozen dinners), drinking alcohol in moderation or not at all, exercising regularly, and keeping your weight at a healthy level. In addition, your doctor can prescribe medications that can help lower your blood pressure.
Diabetes: Diabetes causes circulatory problems in your body. Because of these complications, if you have diabetes you have an increased risk of stroke. There are two kinds of diabetes, Type I (insulin dependent) and Type 2 (non-insulin dependent). Type 2 has been known as Adult Onset Diabetes, but the alarming rise in Type 2 among very young people, brought on largely by the obesity epidemic, is making that term obsolete. People with either type of diabetes generally have one or more other risk factors for stroke: heart disease, high cholesterol including high levels of LDL, and high blood pressure, all of which increase a person’s chances of having a stroke or a heart attack.
If you are overweight, a loss of as few as ten pounds can bring about a significant drop in blood glucose levels. Exercise can likewise help. A diet that qualifies as heart healthy is an excellent diet for a diabetic. While Type 1 diabetics are generally prescribed insulin, Type 2 diabetics may be prescribed oral medication or, if these are not successful, insulin.
High Cholesterol: Too much cholesterol or plaque build-up can cause abnormal blood flow and can clog arteries, which can lead to a stroke. High cholesterol can also increase the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis, which are both risk factors of stroke.
In addition to having an overall cholesterol reading of less than 200, you should have an HDL (good cholesterol) reading above 40, and an LDL (bad cholesterol) reading of less than 100. The best defense is a diet high in grains, fruits and vegetables and foods low in saturated fat. Your doctor can prescribe medications that can help lower your cholesterol.