Each year, more than 700,000 Americans have a stroke-the interruption of blood to the brain-because a blood vessel is blocked (ischemic stroke) or because of bleeding into the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).
"You don't want to wait for a stroke." says neurologist Richard Benson, MD/PhD, associate medical director at the Comprehensive Stroke Center, MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. "Know your risk factors and control behaviors that raise risk."
Steps such as those below can prevent 80 percent of strokes.
Age, gender, and ethnicity are risk factors you can't change. The older you are the higher the risk, increasing by one percent a year after age 65. Both women, blacks and Hispanics are at higher risk than others as well. Knowing your unchanging risks may motivate you to tackle malleable ones such as inactivity, excess weight, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and smoking.
"People who exercise [several] times a week lower their risk by 20 to 30 percent," says Benson, also associate professor of Clinical Neurology at Georgetown University Medical Center. Exercise can also lower your weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure. According to a 2010 12-year study of 40,000 women by the Harvard School of Public Health, women who walked briskly twenty minutes a day cut stroke risk by 40 percent.
"Excess weight raises blood pressure, increases resistance to insulin, and can lead to metabolic syndrome," a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high blood fats, says Benson. Diabetes, which can lead to blood vessel damage, is an independent risk factor for stroke.
Smoking doubles the risk of ischemic stroke and quadruples the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), smoking has been linked to the build-up of fat in the carotid artery, the main neck artery leading to the brain. Nicotine also raises blood pressure. Ask your doctor how to quit, or go to www.smokefree.gov to speak to a quit coach by text or phone.
According to a 2015 43-year Swedish study of 11,644 middle-aged twins, those who drank more than two drinks a day had a 34 percent higher risk of a stroke than those who drank half a drink or less. But you needn't be a teetotaler: the antioxidants in wine, especially red wine, help protect against the build-up of fat in the arteries, says Benson, who notes that women should drink no more than one glass a day, men two.
According to a 2012 study of 80,000 women by Harvard Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital, depression raises the risk of stroke by 29 percent."If you are depressed, you may not be physically active, which in turn can lead to weight gain, and higher blood pressure and cholesterol," says Benson. And you may console yourself with junk food. Benson suggests seeing your doctor, who may recommend an antidepressant.
A 2015 study at the University of Cambridge in England of almost 9700 people found that people who sleep more than eight hours a night have a 46 percent greater risk of a stroke than those who sleep less. The researchers suggest that if someone over age 60 notices he is sleeping more than eight hours, he should ask his doctor to check his heart health. "There may be underlying reasons for longer sleep such as depression or a medical problem such as sleep apnea," says Benson. Sleep apnea, a condition that interferes with breathing while you sleep (and is often accompanied by snoring) is also a risk factor for stroke.
Some people with migraines, particularly those with neurological symptoms such as an aura, flashes of light, or blind spots, appear more likely to have a stroke. If you develop stroke symptoms--sudden weakness, loss of vision, double vision, or a sudden severe headache call 911, says Benson.
Heart irregularities, such as a rapid or irregular heartbeat, raise stroke risk. For example, atrial fibrillation, or quivering of the heart's upper chambers, can cause blood clotting, If a clot travels to the brain, it may cause a stroke. Your doctor may suggest an anti-clotting medication such as warfarin, or a procedure such as implanting into the left atrium a newly FDA-approved device, the Watchman, which helps prevent clots.
A 2014 review study at Harvard Medical School involving more than 6000 patients found that within two hours after a fit of anger, a person's risk of stroke tripled compared to calmer times. When you get angry, you can raise your blood pressure and heart rate, and changes in blood flow can raise the risk of blood clots. Instead of blowing up, find healthy ways of venting anger such as exercise, says Benson: "Punch a bag, not a person."
In need of a cure for dry winter skin? Moisturize luxuriously—and inexpensively—with these DIY body lotion recipes.
Get your fix of lucky New Year eats—without breaking those dietary resolutions.
How healthy is your hair? This winter, protect those locks with tips from an expert stylist.
You be the doc: Reach for these natural remedies to cure some of the most common ailments.
Upgrade your Thanksgiving leftovers game with these healthy turkey recipes.
Don't miss out on any of the flavor of Thanksgiving with these delectable gluten-free recipes.
Don't let sugar set you back—check out some of these sweet alternatives.