According to the American Stroke Association (ASA), every 40 seconds, someone in the United States suffers from a stroke. Additionally, stroke claims 129,000 lives each year, making it the number five cause of death. Stroke can strike anyone, anytime. Knowing the ways to potentially prevent stroke and the warning signs of it can be life-changing.
Understanding Stroke Risk Factors
Stroke risk factors can be broken down into several categories — genetic, medical and lifestyle — but there is definitely overlap among these. While genetic risk factors (age, gender, family history, etc.) allow for the least amount of control, knowing the links between medical and lifestyle risk factors can be helpful for stroke prevention.
“It is all about modifying risk factors,” said Pamela Westerling, M.D., emergency medicine physician at UnityPoint Health. “Because medical and lifestyle stroke risk factors are so intertwined, it is useful to help people understand how they can reduce stroke risk by lifestyle modification, giving patients some control with this scary issue.”
Medical Stroke Risk
Certain medical conditions are closely tied to stroke risk, such as high blood pressure, which the National Stroke Association (NSA) identifies as the number one medical cause of stroke. Atrial fibrillation (AFib), circulation trouble, diabetes and high cholesterol are other medical conditions that can increase the risk of stroke. While medication is an option for helping manage these conditions, lifestyle choices, like implementing physical exercise and healthy eating habits, can make a big difference, too.
Lifestyle Stroke Risk
Stroke risk isn’t just tied to medical conditions. Certain, controllable lifestyle habits play an important role in decreasing stroke risk as well. Proper diet and exercise are probably the easiest to recognize, but reducing tobacco use and alcohol consumption also lower the chance of stroke.
According to the NSA, smoking doubles an individual’s likelihood of stroke, as smoking can cause blood clots and plague build-up in arteries. Due to its highly-addictive nature, smoking is difficult to quit. Talk with your primary care provider about best ways to kick the habit.
Additionally, alcohol consumption can increase stroke risk because heavy drinking can lead to increased blood pressure. Drinking alcohol in moderation is key. Men should not have more than two alcoholic beverages a day, and women should stay with only one alcoholic drink per day.
Not a stroke prevention method by definition, knowing the signs and symptoms of stroke and reacting quickly can greatly reduce the severity of the medical outcome. The ASA uses the acronym FAST to help people spot stroke signs and symptoms quickly. FAST stands for:
“FAST is easy to understand and use. The literature is clear that prompt treatment saves and that is why the Stroke Chain of Survival includes an ambulance and prompt trip to the hospital,” Dr. Westerling said.
- Face – face drooping (smile uneven)
- Arm – weakness or numbness in the arms
- Speech – trouble speaking or slurred speech
- Time – calling 911 and seeking medical help is critical
Other stroke symptoms can include numbness in other areas of the body besides arms (legs, face, etc.), confusion, trouble walking, vision problems and sudden headache.
Know Your Stroke Risk
Stroke risk varies by person, especially if you have already experienced a stroke. Talk with your UnityPoint Health primary care provider about any concerns you may have regarding your personal stroke risk.
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