Stroke Prevention and Risk | MedStar Health

Stroke prevention

The risk for stroke increases as people age, but you can lower your risk of a stroke by adopting these healthy behaviors:

  • Get your blood pressure checked regularly. Elevated blood pressure (140/90 mm Hg or higher) is a leading cause of stroke. High blood pressure makes your heart work harder to pump blood, putting added stress on the artery walls. Keeping your blood pressure under control with medication and exercise will put less strain on your blood vessels, reducing your risk.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking is the most preventable cause of stroke. People who smoke double their risk of having a stroke. Talk with your doctor about smoking-cessation programs to help you quit the habit.
  • Eat a low-fat diet. Eating a diet that is high in cholesterol, saturated fat and total fat can create fat deposits in the arteries. A person with a total cholesterol level between 200 mg /dL and 240 mg/dL has an increased risk of stroke. You can lower your cholesterol level and stroke risk by adopting a diet that is low in saturated fats, low in cholesterol and high in fiber.
  • Be physically active. Exercising for 30 minutes a day and reducing your intake of fat can help you maintain your desired weight and improve overall health. A lifestyle that does not include regular exercise can contribute to heart disease, which may lead to a stroke.
  • Take prescribed medications properly. Medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or mini-stroke increase your risk of a stroke. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help manage these conditions.
  • Do not drink alcohol excessively

Symptoms and warning signs

Stroke Symptoms 'be fast" graphic

If you think you or a loved one may be having a stroke, do not wait. Call 911 right away. A stroke happens when blood flow to part of the brain is cut off because a blood vessel becomes blocked or bursts. According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States and the third leading cause of death. The Maryland Stroke Alliance encourages everyone to know the warning signs of stroke. These vary according to the part of the brain being affected but can include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech
  • Sudden vision problems in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance/coordination
  • A sudden, severe headache

If you suspect that a loved one may be having a stroke, conduct the “Be F.A.S.T.” quick check:

  • B - Balance: Watch for a sudden loss of balance.
  • E - Eyes: Is there a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes? Or double vision?
  • F- Face: Ask the person to smile. Does the face droop?
  • A- Arm: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S- Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
  • T- Time: If you observe any of these signs, then it's time to call 911.

Stroke risks

Stroke is the third largest cause of death in the United States, the primary cause of disability, and affects people of all ages, gender, and race. The effects of stroke can be devastating.  However, specific traits and lifestyle behaviors can increase your risk. Knowing the risk factors and changing your lifestyle can help decrease your risk of having a stroke.

Risk factors include:

  • Heavy Alcohol Use
  • Age: The risk of stroke increases with age. Two-thirds of all strokes occur in people older than 65, but an increasing number of people between the ages of 40 and 50 are having strokes.
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Gender: Men are more likely to have a stroke, but women are twice as likely to die from a stroke.
  • Heart Disease
  • Family History: If an immediate family member had a stroke, your risk increases.
  • History of a Previous Stroke or Transient Ischemic Attack
  • Physical Inactivity and Obesity
  • Race: African-Americans are 1.4 times more likely to die of stroke than Caucasians.
  • Smoking

Types of strokes

The two major kinds of stroke are:

  • Ischemic stroke is caused by a blood clot, which blocks an artery feeding the brain. When the blood supply is interrupted, that portion of the brain can no longer function.. About 80 percent of all strokes are ischemic. In many individuals, stroke is preceded by transient episodes of diminished blood supply. These transient ischemic attacks provide warning of impending stroke and create an opportunity to intervene before stroke occurs.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke results when a blood vessel bursts and leaks blood into the brain. A cerebral hemorrhage occurs when an artery in the brain ruptures, and blood under pressure forces itself into brain tissue. This creates a mass of blood that distorts nearby brain structures and interrupts brain function.

Stroke treatments

Neurosurgeon examining x-ray scans of senior patient
Quick intervention in a stroke can save a life and reduce brain damage. The type of treatment a patient receives depends on the type of stroke they have. 

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