It’s never too late to prevent a stroke

Although heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women, I have witnessed over my years of practicing cardiology that the risk of a stroke raises the worry flag more than anything else.

May is stroke awareness month and deserves some attention since many times when it comes to a stroke, we can beat it and treat it. Some important stats about stroke from the American Stroke Association include:

  • Strokes are the third leading cause of death. Did you know that one stroke occurs every 40 seconds?
  • Strokes are the leading cause of long-term disability.
  • Your risk of stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55.
  • The risk of stroke in a person who smokes is twice that of a nonsmoker.

A stroke occurs when there is an interruption of blood flow. Strokes are divided into two kinds: hemorrhagic (bleeding) and ischemic (blocked artery). The majority of strokes (around 85 percent) are related to a blocked artery either from a blood clot in the brain artery or a blood clot that travels to the brain from another location such as plaque in the neck artery or a blood clot that travels from the heart.

Risk factors for stroke are similar to that of heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity and sedentary lifestyle. The biggest risk factor is high blood pressure.

There is some variation, however, among some subgroups of individuals. For example, people that live in the southeastern portion of the United States have a higher incidence of strokes for reasons that are unclear. In addition, African Americans are at greater risk not only of developing a stroke, but they also have a higher mortality rate from strokes. In addition, atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm) increases the risk of stroke by five times compared to someone without this diagnosis.

A stroke occurs because a blood clot forms in the heart due to blood stagnation which can then travel to the brain resulting in a stroke.

A stroke occurs because a blood clot forms in the heart due to blood stagnation which can then travel to the brain resulting in a stroke. This explains the need for prescribing a blood thinner in many people to prevent this serious complication.

The American Stroke Association has developed an easy way to identify someone who may be having a stroke. It’s important to remember the acronym FAST :

F: Facial drooping
A: Arm weakness
S: Speech difficulty
T: Take time to call 9-1-1

The good news is that the risk of a stroke can be markedly reduced by addressing the risk factors as mentioned above. Moreover, recent data published in the May 2014 issue of the journal, Stroke, shows that eating more fruits and vegetables reduces a stroke by 32 percent and 11 percent respectively.

It is never too late to make smart choices to prevent this leading cause of death and disability in our country.

Take this quiz to find out your risk for stroke. 

About the author

Dr. Shyla High
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Dr. High is Board Certified in cardiovascular disease by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her primary focus is heart disease in women and non-invasive testing. She was recently named a "Texas Super Doctor" by Texas Monthly magazine.

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It’s never too late to prevent a stroke