Some risk factors for stroke may not be controllable, such as age, gender, family history and prior stroke or heart problems. But you do have control to reduce these other risks:
Blood pressure: You have a six times higher risk for stroke if your blood pressure is consistently higher than 140/90. Statistics prove that patients who control their elevated blood pressure with medication drastically reduce their risk of stroke. See more about lowering your blood pressure.
High cholesterol: A total blood serum cholesterol level of more than 200 can increase the chances of a blockage and double a person’s stroke risk. Eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet.
Smoking: Smokers have two to three times the risk of stroke as nonsmokers. Quit now and your risk of having a stroke will begin to drop immediately. Within five years, you will be at the same risk level as someone who has never smoked.
Heart disease and diabetes: While it may not be possible to eliminate the increased risk of stroke associated with heart disease or diabetes, proper treatment and control can significantly reduce its occurrence.
Alcohol: Having more than two alcoholic drinks a day (one for women) or going on drinking binges can increase your stroke risk at any age.
Exercise: If you engage in physical activities for at least 30 minutes three times a week, you have more control over your weight and can lower your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and other circulatory diseases.
Lower Your Blood Pressure
If you need to lower your blood pressure, follow these seven steps:
- Eat plenty of potassium-rich foods and cut your saturated fat and total fat intake.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid obesity. Just 10 extra pounds can markedly increase the risk of hypertension.
- Limit alcohol. Have no more than one to two drinks per day.
- Consume no more than one teaspoon of salt per day. Don't forget to include in this amount the sodium in processed foods.
- If your doctor prescribes medication, stick to the regimen. Even if you feel fine, continue to take your medication exactly as prescribed.
- Don’t smoke. Tobacco speeds up the development of arteriosclerosis, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Get Treatment Early
- Millions who think they’re healthy are actually prehypertensive and should act to prevent full-blown high blood pressure.
- People over age 50... with a top number of 140 or more should be treated regardless of their bottom number.
- Two (or more) drugs are better... for most people with 140/90 pressure or higher. For most, one drug should be a diuretic.
- Doctors should treat more aggressively: one-third of people with hypertension don’t know it; two-thirds of those diagnosed don't have it controlled.
Dangerous Myths about High Blood Pressure
- Common signs include nervousness, sweating, trouble sleeping. Wrong. High blood pressure has no symptoms. The only way to know if you have it is to check it.
- Stress gives everyone high blood pressure. It’s just a fact of life. Stress can increase your risk so check your blood pressure often. People with uncontrolled hypertension have a much greater risk of heart disease, heart failure and stroke.
- When I visit the doctor, my blood pressure is high. I'm sure it’s OK at home. Some people have higher pressure in a doctor’s office due to nervousness. Home monitoring can help your doctor measure your true pressure. Never ignore several high readings.
- Women needn't worry. It’s a man’s problem. False. Some things may put women at even greater risk: birth control pills; being pregnant, overweight, postmenopausal or African-American; family history of hypertension.
- I feel fine, so I can stop taking my blood pressure medicine. No! Hypertension is a lifelong disease that can be controlled, not cured. Take medicine exactly as prescribed. Cutting back or quitting is dangerous.
- I can take any over-the-counter cold or flu medicine. Wrong. Cold, cough and flu medicine with decongestants can be dangerous for people with hypertension. They can increase blood pressure and interfere with blood pressure drugs.
- I don’t need to check my blood pressure until middle age. Wrong. Start checking it early. Children as young as 6 can have hypertension. Heavier, more sexually mature teens tend to have higher pressure; those with hypertension and extra pounds can have thicker arteries by age 30.
Visit strokeassociation.org to learn more.
Information source: American Stroke Association.