Each year, approximately 795,000 adults will suffer a first or recurrent stroke – about one every 40 seconds. While some risk factors for stroke are hereditary, steps can be taken to lower your risk of this devastating disease. Joining us for Martha Jefferson Healthwise today is Dr. Alexander Grunsfeld, Director of Stroke and NeuroCritical Care, to share information on stroke risk factors and how to stay healthy.
What risk factors for stroke can’t be changed?
The most obvious is age. For each decade of life after age 55 the risk of stroke approximately doubles. If someone in your immediate family has had a stroke that increases your risk of having one as well. Men are more likely to suffer a stroke then women. And if you have already had a stroke, or a transient ischemic attack, which is an episode of stroke symptoms that persist for a short period of time and then resolve, then the chances of having a second stroke are increased.
What are some risk factors that we can control to help keep our risk of stroke lower?
There are many steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of a first or recurrent stroke. We know that smoking doubles the risk for stroke. Quitting smoking will reduce that risk and in fact it will disappear completely within 5 years of smoking cessation. High blood pressure is perhaps the most important modifiable risk factor. Control of blood pressure through diet, exercise and medications can reduce the risk for stroke by up to 40%. Diabetes is another disease that increases the risk for stroke both directly and also indirectly by its adverse affects on blood pressure and atherosclerosis. Therefore, good control of diabetes is extremely important. The carotid arteries in the neck supply the brain with blood and are a frequent place for the build up of an atherosclerotic plaque. If this build up is large enough to cause significant narrowing of the artery, surgery to remove the plaque can reduce the risk of stroke. This is especially true if you have already had a stroke or TIA on the affected side. An abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation also increases the risk for stroke because in this condition blood clots can form in the heart and then travel to the brain. A drug called warfarin or coumadin reduces this risk by thinning the blood making it more difficult for a clot to form in the heart. Anyone who has already had a stroke or TIA can reduce their risk of a recurrent stroke simply by taking a full dose of aspirin daily. Those are the most common risk factors that can be treated, but there are quite a few others as well.
What resources are available for someone who believes that they or a loved one are AT risk for stroke?
It is important to speak to your doctor about controlling your risk factors for stroke. Martha Jefferson is offering an educational seminar on stroke prevention as well as free blood pressure screenings on Tuesday, June 9, 6 - 8pm at the MJ Outpatient Care Center. The seminar is free, but registration is required. You can call 434 982-7009 for more information or to register. The National Stroke Association and the American Heart Association also have lots of useful information on their websites.
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