Stroke Prevention Steps

A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of our brain is interrupted or significantly reduced, depriving it of oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die. As brain cells do not regenerate, this can result in permanent brain damage.

However, some tips can help reduce the risk of stroke by making some lifestyle changes.

The World Stroke Organization states that strokes are the leading cause of disabilities globally, with over 12 million people worldwide suffering a stroke each year. They stress that around 90% of strokes can be prevented by addressing a small number of risk factors responsible for most cases.

Dr Andrew Russman, Medical Director at the Cleveland Clinic Comprehensive Stroke Centre in the USA, provides advice on reducing stroke risk through the proper management of conditions like diabetes and lifestyle changes.

“All these tips are interconnected. Most suggested lifestyle changes play a tangible role in better managing other health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which also raise stroke risk,” notes Dr Russman.

Lower Blood Pressure

Dr Russman pointed out that uncontrolled hypertension, defined as readings consistently over 130/80mmHg, is the world’s most treatable stroke risk factor.

Alongside appropriate medication, steps like reducing salt intake can help lower blood pressure. Dr Russman considers this beneficial even for those without hypertension.

“We recommend consuming under 2 grams of salt daily. I always advise patients to read nutrition labels and consult reputable food websites to understand their sodium intake, which is often much higher than they realise,” adds Dr Russman.

Caution with Diabetes

Dr Russman emphasised the importance of diabetes testing. If diagnosed, the disease must be well-managed, as it narrows the body’s small, medium and large blood vessels, including those supplying the eyes, kidneys, heart and brain. Consequently, diabetes can trigger various heart problems and strokes.

Additionally, stroke survivors with untreated diabetes have a 3-times higher chance of recurrence.

Moreover, Dr Russman states that diabetes management plans should involve checking HbA1c levels, indicating average blood sugar over the past three months, and trying to keep the levels under 7.0. Medication, diet, exercise and provider advice assist in achieving this target.

Treating Atrial Fibrillation

The World Stroke Organization says that atrial fibrillation is linked to 1-in-4 strokes. Dr Russman explained that these strokes tend to be more severe and disabling compared to those linked to other risk factors.

“Atrial fibrillation is a heart rhythm disorder involving a very rapid heartbeat that prevents the heart’s left upper chamber (left atrium) from contracting properly. Instead, it quivers ineffectively. This hampers blood flow, and pooling blood may form clots that travel to the brain, blocking a vessel. This deprives the brain of vital oxygen and nutrients,” explained Dr Russman.

Additionally, He noted that atrial fibrillation is the most common rhythm disorder among the elderly, with age-related stroke risks. “The older one gets, the higher their chance of developing atrial fibrillation and related stroke risks. Over half of those with rhythm disorders are undiagnosed. However, atrial fibrillation can be treated once identified, typically using blood thinners that, despite some risks, provide much greater benefit for most patients,” added Dr Russman.

Controlling Cholesterol

Alongside lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol through diet, doctors may prescribe statin medications to reduce future risks of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes.

Dr Russman states that specific statins like rosuvastatin and atorvastatin potentially offer advantages beyond just lowering cholesterol. They can also decrease inflammation and stabilise fatty plaque build-up inside blood vessels.

Quitting Smoking

“All forms of smoking raise cardiovascular disease and stroke risks substantially by accelerating atherosclerosis and narrowing blood vessels in the brain, heart and body. We strongly advise abstaining completely from all nicotine intake to reduce long-term disease risks,” emphasised Dr Russman.

A Healthy Lifestyle

Dr Russman recommends following a healthy low-fat, low-sodium diet while avoiding alcohol and excessive caffeine intake. He stresses the importance of regular physical activity for directly lowering stroke risk factors and indirectly reducing blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Exercise can decrease tension and psychological stress similar to meditation and deep breathing. This is critical because stress triggers the release of chemicals that elevate blood pressure, affect hormones and increase blood sugar.

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