Eight ways you can prevent a stroke
Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented with the right knowledge and modifications, says St. Joseph’s/Candler Stroke Program coordinator
St. Joseph’s/Candler treated more than 560 strokes in 2021. Across the nation, more than 800,000 people in the United States experienced a stroke. About 610,000 of those are first-time strokes.
A number we should all be aware of is 80. Eighty percent of strokes can be prevented if people know the risk factors, practice a healthy lifestyle and comply with doctor’s medication orders, says Cristen Wood, St. Joseph’s/Candler Stroke Program coordinator.
“It’s important to know your risks for anything to live the life you want to live and to take care of your family,” Wood says. “It’s important to know any risks you may have and respond to them. You want to try to prevent any catastrophe from happening, and a stroke can be life-changing for the patient, for their family and friends.”
A stroke is a disruption of blood flow to certain areas of the brain. The brain constantly needs a supply of oxygen and nutrients in order to work properly. If blood supply is stopped, even for a short time, this can cause problems.
There are two types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic.
An ischemic stroke occurs from loss of blood flow to the brain, usually due to a blood clot, resulting in death of brain tissue. These are the most common types of strokes, Wood says.
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a ruptured blood vessel bleeds into brain tissue, which also causes damage to the brain. These strokes are less common, but lead to more fatalities, Wood says.
There’s also a transient ischemic attack, or TIA, often called a mini-stroke. It’s defined as an abrupt temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain. It results in common stroke symptoms which resolve within minutes to hours. These events shouldn’t be ignored, however, as statistics show more than 25 percent of people diagnosed of having a TIA experience another TIA or stroke within the next month.
“It’s important you do a full work up and find the cause of the TIA,” Wood says. “You don’t necessarily want to focus on the duration of the symptoms, but focus on the cause so you can institute those changes to try to prevent future events.”
As the SJ/C Stroke Program coordinator, Wood is responsible for educating not only hospital staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Candler Hospital, but also nine regional hospitals in the Stroke NET-work as well as community members in Coastal Georgia. One of the things she emphasizes is the importance of prevention.
Here are eight ways you can prevent a stroke:
1. Know the risk factors that led to stroke, especially high blood pressure and high cholesterol, two of the main causes of a stroke. Other factors you can control that could cause a stroke are heart disease, diabetes, smoking, excessive
alcohol use and drug abuse. There are some risk factors you can’t change, but should still be aware of including:
- African-Americans are twice as likely to have a stroke as their Caucasian counterparts
- Males have a tendency to have strokes more than females do
- Females, however, are more prone to die from a stroke than males
- If you’ve had a stroke or heart attack in the past, you are more likely to have another one
2. Follow a healthy diet. Wood and the American Heart Association recommend the Mediterranean diet, or a diet that includes lean proteins, lots of fruits and vegetables and healthy fats. You want to avoid a diet high in saturated fat and salt. You should also limit sugar and choose whole grains and fiber more often than simple carbohydrates.
3. Exercise. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week, but most importantly, health experts want you to move more and sit less. Physical inactivity can increase your risk of stroke, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
4. Get your Body Mass Index down. Adults with a BMI greater than 30 are at a higher risk of suffering a stroke. Following a healthy diet and staying active can help you lower your BMI to a healthy range.
5. Take your medications as prescribed, especially if you are on blood pressure or cholesterol medication. Never stop taking a prescribed medication without talking to your doctor, regardless if you feel better.
6. See your doctor annually. Routine visits with your doctor will help monitor potential risk factors including blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. If you currently do not have a primary care physician, you can request an appointment with one of our Physician Network practice locations across the region.
7. Don’t smoke or, if you do, quit now. We all know smoking causes damage to our lungs, but it can have harmful effects on our blood vessels too, Wood says. Smoking can damage the walls of arteries and vessels. It causes plaque buildup and thickens the blood, potentially forming a clot that blocks off normal blood flow.
8. Know the warning signs. Strokes are treatable and getting fast treatment is important to prevent disability from stroke and death.
In the past, you were told to think F.A.S.T. when it came to strokes. Two new letters have been added, asking you to B.E.F.A.S.T.
B – Balance (a sudden change in coordination and balance)
E – Eyes (a sudden change in vision, such as cloudy vision)
F – Facial drooping
A – Arm drifting, weakness or numbness
S – Speech is slurred or garbled or there’s an inability to speak at all
T – Time – Call 9-1-1 immediately
“I always tell people the key word is sudden,” Wood says. “Any sudden change in any (of the above) could potentially be a stroke and time is of the essence.”
For more information about the Stroke Program at St. Joseph’s/Candler, click here.