10 Keys to Stroke Prevention

heart shape and brain

Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. It is the fifth-leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures). When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it and brain cells die.

How do you prevent stroke?
The National Stroke Association recommends that you follow these guidelines to help reduce the risk for stroke...

1. Know your blood pressure. Have it checked at least annually. If it's elevated, work with your doctor to keep it under control. Having high blood pressure, or hypertension, increases stroke risk four to six times.

2. Find out if you have atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heartbeat). If left untreated, atrial fibrillation can increase stroke risk four to six times.

3. If you smoke, stop. Smoking doubles stroke risk.

4. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Recent studies have suggested that modest alcohol consumption (up to two glasses of wine or the alcohol equivalent) may reduce stroke risk. If you don't drink, don't start.

5. Find out if you have high cholesterol. High cholesterol can indirectly increase stroke risk by putting people at greater risk of heart disease. Talk to your doctor if your total cholesterol is higher than 200 mg/dL or if you LDL cholesterol is higher than 100 mg/dL.

6. If you are diabetic, follow you doctor's recommendation carefully to control your diabetes. People with diabetes have a significantly higher stroke risk. This may be related to circulation problems that diabetes can cause.

7. Incorporate physical activity that you enjoy into your daily routine. Active people tend to have lower cholesterol levels. Regular exercise also seems to slow down or stop the clogging of blood vessels.

8. Enjoy a low-sodium (salt) and low-fat diet. Too much salt can contribute to high blood pressure and make it more difficult to control. A diet that is low in fat will likely include vegetables, lean meats such as chicken and fish, low-fat dairy products and a limited number of eggs.

9. Ask your doctor if you have circulation problems, which increase your risk for stroke. If you do, work with your doctor to control this condition.

10. If you experience any stroke symptoms, seek immediate medical attention by calling 9-1-1. Every minute matters!

F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke. When you can spot the signs, you'll know that you need to call 9-1-1 for help right away. F.A.S.T. is:
F     Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person's smile uneven?

A     Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S     Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?

T     Time to call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Take the time to speak to your healthcare provider today to find out how you can reduce your personal risk factors for stroke!

Teresa White DNP RN-BC is a Clinical Nurse Educator at SwedishAmerican a Division of UW Health