By Julie DeVries, MSN, RN, Director of Stroke Services at Somerset Medical Center
This year, about 700,000 people will suffer from a stroke, and nearly 168,000 of those people will die. The most important thing to realize, however, is that there are a number of known, preventative measures people can take to protect themselves and lower their risk of experiencing a stroke. Up to 80 percent of all strokes are preventable if you know what steps to take to reduce your own, personal risk. Although a stroke can happen to anyone, there are certain risk factors that increase a person’s chance of experiencing one. Consider the following preventative tips.
- Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor if left untreated. Since it has no signs or symptoms, be sure to have your blood pressure checked yearly by your doctor, or consider using a home monitoring machine if your blood pressure fluctuates. For reference, normal blood pressure typically measures 120/80 mmHg. Somerset Medical Center offers regular blood screenings; the next one is November 15, 2012.
- Check your cholesterol. High levels of bad cholesterol can clog arteries, which can cause a stroke. Like high blood pressure, high cholesterol typically has no signs or symptoms. Only a visit to the doctor will provide you with the information you need. Your doctor can perform a simple blood test to check your levels, and it’s strongly recommended you get your levels checked at least once every five years.
- Visit your doctor regularly. Diligently scheduling your annual physicals and consulting with your physician on a regular basis helps you gain a better understanding of your personal stroke risk, which in turn helps you take the right preventative action. Certain conditions, including Atrial Fibrillation, Diabetes, circulation problems, and Anemia, can increase your stroke risk, so it’s important to diagnose them early on and take the appropriate precautions.
- Quit smoking. Smoking leads to clogged arteries, high blood pressure, and damaged blood vessels, doubling your risk of having a stroke. Quit smoking to begin reversing the habit’s negative effects and greatly reduce your stroke risk. Visit your physician or community hospital for support and advice on how to quit and stay smoke-free.
- Drink in moderation. Consuming too much alcohol can contribute to high blood pressure, increasing your risk of having a stroke. Try to limit your alcohol use, and aim to have no more than two drinks each day to keep your blood pressure from reaching dangerous levels.
- Exercise and watch your diet. Physical activity helps you maintain a healthy body weight and lowers both cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Aim to exercise about five times per week to maximize your health and reduce your stroke risk. Also look to maintain a diet low in calories, sodium, and saturated and trans fats, and try to work as many servings of fruit and vegetables as you can into your daily intake.
- Recognize the signs and symptoms. Stroke symptoms include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg – especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes; sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and sudden, severe headaches with no identified cause. If you experience any of these symptoms, immediately call 911 and seek medical attention. Treatment is most effective in reducing long-term disability if it’s sought out right away.
Staying educated on the best ways to reduce your stroke risk and implementing these proactive techniques are the best preventative measures you can take. Consult with your physician to discuss your own specific risk factors and to develop a more tailored course of action.