Rehab Select Blog

How to Manage Stroke Risk Factors

Posted by Bobby Stephenson

Jan 24, 2018 9:00:00 AM

Are_You_At_Risk_For_StrokeStroke occurs when a vessel that supplies blood to the brain ruptures or becomes blocked, starving brain cells of oxygen and resulting in brain damage. It is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., as well as a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in adults, affecting about 795,000 Americans and killing 137,000 people – one every four minutes – every year. Given those stark statistics and the fact that stroke is preventable, knowing your personal risk factors for stroke is essential.

Risk Factors For Stroke

There are two main categories when it comes to risk factors for stroke: controllable and uncontrollable risk factors. Uncontrollable risk factors are things that we have no power to change, such as increasing age, family history of stroke, previous stroke, gender – more females die of stroke than males – and ethnicity – African and Hispanic Americans at higher than average risk for stroke. Being aware of these risk factors is essential and here's why: Having uncontrollable risk factors does not mean that a stroke is inevitable, but it does mean that you will need to be even more careful about stroke prevention than the average person.

Controllable risk factors are the key to stroke prevention, since they can be avoided, improved or corrected with treatment, lowering your overall risk for stroke. The most common of these are:

  • High blood pressure – Damages blood vessels and is the leading cause of stroke

  • Smoking – Causes gradual damage to the cardiovascular system

  • Diabetes – Can cause damage to blood vessels in the brain, particularly when it is poorly controlled

  • High cholesterol – High LDL (bad) cholesterol and low HDL (good) cholesterol have been shown to increase stroke risk

  • Inactivity – Raises risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease, all of which increase stroke risk

  • Poor diet – Too much saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium in your diet increase risk of high cholesterol and high blood pressure

  • Overweight or obesity – Increases risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease

  • Arteriosclerosis – Plaque buildup in arteries narrows them, increasing risk of blockages that lead to stroke

  • Existing heart diseases – People with atrial fibrillation, coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure and dilated cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart) are at greater risk for stroke.

  • Excessive alcohol use – Raises blood pressure and increases risk of arteriosclerosis

Managing Controllable Risk Factors for Stroke

The bottom line for preventing or managing controllable risk factors is a healthy lifestyle. High blood pressure, diabetes, arteriosclerosis, weight problems and heart disease can all be prevented in many cases by eating a healthy, well balanced diet and getting plenty of regular exercise. If you are not sure where to start, ask your doctor for a referral to a nutritionist or health coach for professional help and advice.

If you already have one or more of these health issues, being proactive about proper treatment and care -- including necessary lifestyle changes -- can reduce their impact on your personal level of stroke risk. Lastly, smoking and excessive alcohol use are, of course, entirely controllable. Alcohol should be limited to no more than one drink daily for women and two for men. Smoking should be avoided altogether, so if you smoke, quit, and if you have trouble quitting on your own, get help through a smoking cessation program or your doctor.

Understanding Stroke

Topics: Stroke Rehabilitation