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10 ways to reduce your stroke risk

About 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year. They happen when the brain doesn’t get enough blood, either because an artery burst or a clot is blocking the blood flow.

For every minute a stroke goes untreated, you lose nearly 2 million brain cells, and you can’t get them back, resulting in issues like partial paralysis, an inability to speak and even death. If you experience any of the symptoms of stroke, you need to call 9-1-1 immediately.

Know the signs

Human brain graphic

The symptoms are easy to remember with the acronym F.A.S.T.

F – Facial drooping

A – Arm weakness or numbness

S – Speech difficulty or slurring speech

T – Time to call 9-1-1

The best way to treat stroke, however, is to avoid having one altogether, which means you need to manage your risk factors.

Reduce your risk

Some risk factors, such as getting older and having a family history of stroke, can’t be changed. But up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented with healthy lifestyle changes and controlling your health conditions.

Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the things that put them at risk for stroke—even people who have already experienced a stroke.

Here are 10 things that can increase your stroke risk and what you can do about them:

  1. senior couple with grandson outdoorsHigh blood pressure: High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke. Almost half of adults have high blood pressure. Get yours checked regularly.
  2. Diabetes: High blood sugar damages blood vessels and nerves that control your heart. People with diabetes have two to four times the stroke risk compared with those without the disease. Work with your doctor to manage your blood glucose.
  3. Heart disease: Coronary artery disease or irregular heartbeat could contribute to stroke. To treat your condition, your doctor might recommend surgery or medication.
  4. Abnormal cholesterol: When you take in more cholesterol than your body can use, it builds up, clogging arteries—including those in your brain. Have yours checked at least once every five years.
  5. Unhealthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases your risk for stroke. Obesity is linked to high cholesterol and blood pressure. To maintain a healthy weight, balance the number of calories you eat with your physical activity level.
  6. Unhealthy diet: Choosing healthy foods can help prevent stroke. Eat foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol. Limit salt and get plenty of fiber. And load up on fruits and vegetables.
  7. couple riding bicycles in the woodsNot exercising: Working out helps you stay at a healthy weight and can lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. Aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Even 10 minutes offers health benefits.
  8. Smoking: Cigarette smoking can damage heart and blood vessels, which increases your risk for stroke. Nicotine also raises blood pressure. Kick the habit and your stroke risk drops.
  9. Drinking alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. Limit alcohol to one drink per day for women or two for men.
  10. Stress: Stress can contribute to high blood pressure. To calm down, try positive self-talk. Don’t think, “I can’t do this.” Tell yourself, “I’ll do the best I can.”

Find out your stroke risk by taking the OSF HealthCare Stroke Risk Assessment.

About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: Brain & Spine