Every year in the United States, more than 795,000 people have a new stroke, and 140,000 of those strokes are fatal. And in recent news, actor Luke Perry of hit series “Beverly Hills 90210” died Monday from reports of a massive stroke.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 80 percent of strokes could be prevented through controlling the health conditions that raise your risk for stroke.
“Anyone can have a stroke,” said Marat Grigorov, D.O., neurosurgeon with Bayfront Health Medical Group. “And while it’s true that certain factors like age, sex, race and family history are beyond our control, there are a number of lifestyle choices we can make to vastly reduce the number of tragic stroke-related fatalities.”
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 blood pressure 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.
“Someone who has had one or more TIAs is almost ten times more likely to have a stroke than someone of similar age who hasn’t,” said Dr. Grigorov. “Recognizing and treating TIAs is critical to avoiding a major stroke. TIAs should be considered a medical emergency, and the patient should follow up immediately with a neurologist.”
Perhaps most importantly, the key to avoiding stroke-related death is to B.E.F.A.S.T. This acronym is a helpful reminder to look for B Balance, E Eyes, 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.
Bayfront Health Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda have both achieved the Gold Seal of Approval from The Joint Commission as Primary Stroke Centers. If you or someone you know may be suffering from a stroke, dial 9-1-1 and get to the closest hospital immediately. If you need to be connected to a physician to help you identify and manage your risk factors for a stroke, visit www.BayfrontMedicalGroup.com for a list of physicians.