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Stroke prevention starts with smart choices

Chestnut Hill Local - 9/20/2017

Every year in the United States, more than 600,000 people have a new stroke, and 130,000 of those strokes are fatal. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 80% of strokes could be prevented through controlling the health conditions that raise your risk for stroke.

The good news is most of the health and lifestyle choices needed to reduce your risk of stroke, will also significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, while enhancing your overall health and quality of life. So why wait to get started? Here is your priority checklist:

? Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke, and its most controllable risk factor. If you can't manage healthy BP through diet and stress-reduction, get with your doctor for the right medicine.

? Stop smoking. Nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke damage the cardiovascular system and pave the way for a stroke to occur. Use of birth control pills combined with cigarette smoking can increase the risk of stroke even further.

? Prevent or control diabetes. Diabetes (both I and II) is an independent risk factor for stroke. If you are diabetic, have your blood sugar and A1C levels checked regularly and keep those numbers in a healthy range.

? Use food as preventive medicine. Your diet can make or break your risk of a stroke over time. Eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day can actually reduce the risk of stroke. Minimize sodium, saturated fat and trans fat and keep calories in a healthy range.

? Manage cholesterol levels. Large amounts of cholesterol in the blood can build up and cause blood clots, leading to a stroke. If you can't get your numbers in range with diet changes, talk with your doctor about whether medication is the right choice.

? Atrial Fibrillation. AFib increases stroke risks fivefold because it causes the heart's upper chambers to beat incorrectly, which can allow the blood to pool and clot, then travel to the brain and cause a stroke. If you have AFib, know your stroke risks and get treatment to keep them as low as possible.

? Physical inactivity and weight control. Both physical inactivity and excess body weight can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. So go on a brisk walk, take the stairs, and do everything you can to make your life more active. If your BMI is over 25, make losing at least 5-10 pounds a priority this year.

? Other medical conditions. If you have sleep apnea, sickle cell disease, alcohol or drug abuse, peripheral or carotid artery disease, or any other disease of the heart or blood vessels, talk with your physician regularly about the impact of these conditions on your risk of stroke, and how to best manage it.

Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are also strong predictors of stroke. TIAs are smaller, temporary blockages in the brain that can produce milder stroke-like symptoms but may not leave lasting damage.

Perhaps most importantly, the key to avoiding stroke-related death is to get the patient treatment F.A.S.T. The FAST acronym is a helpful reminder to looking for Face drooping, Arm weakness, Slurred speech ? Time to call 9-1-1. Other symptoms can include sudden and severe headache pain, confusion, numbness of arms or legs, and loss of vision. Treatment must be administered quickly to avoid irreversible damage, so if in any doubt at all ? call 9-1-1.

Cathy Brzozowski is director marketing and public relations at Chestnut Hill Hospital


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