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May: Stroke Awareness Month

“Eighty percent of strokes are preventable. That means the vast majority of stroke deaths and disabilities never have to happen,” according to the American Heart Association.

The American Stroke Association (ASA) notes that stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. Stroke mortality rates among women are slightly higher (60 percent) than among men (40 percent).

With May being Stroke Awareness Month, we have turned to Harvard Health Publications for some tips in prevention:

High blood pressure is a huge factor, doubling or even quadrupling your stroke risk if it is not controlled. "High blood pressure is the biggest contributor to the risk of stroke in both men and women," Dr. Rost says. "Monitoring blood pressure and, if it is elevated, treating it, is probably the biggest difference women can make to their vascular health."

Your ideal goal: Maintain a blood pressure of less than 120/80. But for some, a less aggressive goal (such as 140/90) may be more appropriate.

How to achieve it:

  • Reduce the salt in your diet to no more than 1,500 milligrams a day (about a half teaspoon).
  • Avoid high-cholesterol foods, such as burgers, cheese and ice cream.
  • Eat four to five cups of fruits and vegetables every day, one serving of fish two to three times a week, and several daily servings of whole grains and low-fat dairy.
  • Get more exercise — at least 30 minutes of activity a day, and more, if possible.
  • If you smoke, quit smoking.

Obesity, as well as the complications linked to it (including high blood pressure and diabetes), raises your odds of having a stroke. If you're overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can have a real impact on your stroke risk.

Your goal: Keep your body mass index (BMI) at 25 or less.

How to achieve it:

  • Try to eat no more than 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day (depending on your activity level and your current BMI).
  • Increase the amount of exercise you do with activities like walking, golfing, or playing tennis, and by making activity part of every single day.

Exercise contributes to losing weight and lowering blood pressure, but it also stands on its own as an independent stroke reducer.

Your goal: Exercise at a moderate intensity at least five days a week.

How to achieve it:

  • Take a walk around your neighborhood every morning after breakfast.
  • Start a fitness club with friends.
  • When you exercise, reach the level at which you're breathing hard, but you can still talk.
  • Take the stairs instead of an elevator when you can.
  • If you don't have 30 consecutive minutes to exercise, break it up into 10- to 15-minute sessions a few times each day.

What you've heard is true. Drinking can make you less likely to have a stroke — up to a point. "Studies show that if you have about one drink per day, your risk may be lower," says to Dr. Rost. "Once you start drinking more than two drinks per day, your risk goes up very sharply."

Your goal: Drink alcohol in moderation.

How to achieve it:

  • Have one glass of alcohol a day.
  • Make red wine your first choice, because it contains resveratrol, which is thought to protect the heart and brain.
  • Watch your portion sizes. A standard-sized drink is a 5-ounce glass of wine, 12-ounce beer, or 1.5-ounce glass of hard liquor.

Atrial fibrillation is a form of irregular heartbeat that causes clots to form in the heart. Those clots can then travel to the brain, producing a stroke. "Atrial fibrillation carries almost a fivefold risk of stroke, and should be taken seriously," Dr. Rost says.

Your goal: If you have atrial fibrillation, get it treated.

How to achieve it:

  • If you have symptoms such as heart palpitations or shortness of breath, see your doctor for an exam.
  • You may need to take blood thinners such as high-dose aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin) to reduce your stroke risk from atrial fibrillation. Your doctors can guide you through this treatment.

Having high blood sugar damages blood vessels over time, making clots more likely to form inside them.

Your goal: Keep your blood sugar under control.

How to achieve it:

  • Monitor your blood sugar as directed by your doctor.
  • Use diet, exercise, and medicines to keep your blood sugar within the recommended range.

Smoking accelerates clot formation in a couple of different ways. It thickens your blood, and it increases the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries. "Along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, smoking cessation is one of the most powerful lifestyle changes that will help you reduce your stroke risk significantly," Dr. Rost says.

Your goal: Quit smoking.

How to achieve it:

  • Ask your doctor for advice on the most appropriate way for you to quit.
  • Use quit-smoking aids, such as nicotine pills or patches, counseling or medicine.
  • Don't give up. Most smokers need several tries to quit. See each attempt as bringing you one step closer to successfully beating the habit.

 

A great way to remember the signs of a stroke is to remember the acronym F.A.S.T.:

F(ace) – Have the person attempt to smile. If one side of the face does not move as well as the other, it is a sign of stroke.

A(rms) – Have the person attempt to raise both of their arms. Notice if one of their arms doesn’t move as high as the other.

S(peech) – Give the person a sentence that they can repeat. Check if there are any slurred words.

T(ime) – If you notice any of these stroke warning signs, act quickly and dial 911 to ensure your elderly loved one receives immediate treatment.

If someone present in the room at the time of stroke takes action based on those signs, it can help save the life of the stroke victim.

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