Anytime people hear about stroke, the first thing that comes to mind is body paralysis. While that is true, the impact of stroke on our overall health is much more than body paralysis. The sad part is that as we age, our chances of having this life-threatening condition called stroke increase.
From the blockage in the blood vessel to the sudden onset of paralysis of the body and brain damage, stroke is one of the deadliest diseases globally. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, stroke ranked as the third and fifth cause of death in women and men, respectively.
In this article, we’ll dive into the meaning of stroke, its causes, signs, and surefire ways to prevent stroke risk. Come along to take control of your health and unravel the secret to this deadly disease.
A stroke, also known as a brain attack or cerebrovascular accident (CVA), is a medical condition that occurs when there is a disruption in the flow of blood to the vessels that transport oxygen and nutrients to the brain either due to blocked artery or bleeding in your brain (blood clotting).
When this happens, there is instant damage to the brain cells, and in the worst cases, they die, leading to long-term disability or even death. Similar to dementia, stroke attack is prominent in people within the age range of 65 years and above.
However, according to experts, there are three major types of stroke attacks, and the symptoms vary depending on the one you are battling.
Ischemic Stroke: This occurs due to blood clotting in the blood vessels. That means there is a blockage of blood in the vessels that transport oxygen and blood to the brain. According to medical experts, nearly 80% of cases fall in this category.
Hemorrhagic Stroke: This is a situation whereby the artery or blood vessels in or near the brain rupture or burst. As a result, there is much pressure on the brain cells, eventually damaging them.
Transient Ischemic Attack or Mini Stroke: Unlike others, this is more of a warning that there is a risk of you getting diagnosed with stroke in the future. It is a momentary disruption of blood flow to the brain cells. Most times, TIA only lasts for 24 hours, but it’s advisable to get medical attention after you experience it.
Causes of Stroke
While considering your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases may be daunting, it is important to know how to monitor the underlying causes and make simple lifestyle changes to live a happier, longer, and healthier life. Below are some common causes and risk factors for strokes:
- High Blood Pressure: Hypertension is one of the common causes of stroke. HBP usually results in the weakening and rupture of blood vessels in the brain or blood clots that block the blood supply.
- Smoking: Smoke, especially tobacco smoke, contains harmful chemicals that can damage blood vessels and promote the formation of blood clots, increasing the risk of strokes.
- Heart Disease: Conditions like coronary artery disease, atrial fibrillation, and other heart disorders can contribute to the formation of blood clots, which may travel to the brain and lead to stroke.
- Diabetes: Individuals with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as strokes, aortic disease, coronary artery disease, and so on.
- High Cholesterol Levels: Also, if you are diagnosed with a high level of LDL cholesterol, there is a higher chance of you having atherosclerosis. This is a condition where fatty deposits build up in the arteries, narrowing them and increasing the likelihood of blood clots.
- Obesity and Unhealthy Diet: If you are overweight or obese and have a high presence of saturated or trans-fat, your risk of stroke attack is high. Obesity and an unhealthy diet contribute to HBP, high cholesterol levels, and diabetes, all of which are stroke risk factors.
- Physical Inactivity: Lack of regular exercise can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, and other risk factors for strokes.
- Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Heavy drinking is another cause of stroke. When you drink to a certain stage, your blood pressure increases, thereby contributing to the development of heart disease, which increases the likelihood of hemorrhagic strokes.
- Drug Abuse: Excessive usage of drugs like cocaine, amphetamines, and heroin can significantly increase the risk of strokes, either by causing blood vessel constriction or by promoting the formation of blood clots.
- Age and family history: The risk of strokes increases with age, and having a family history of strokes or certain genetic conditions can predispose individuals to stroke risk.
Signs and Symptoms of Stroke
When it comes to stroke attacks, every minute counts. Therefore, you must take cognizance of the signs and symptoms. By doing this, you’ll quickly know what to do when you or someone around you experience a stroke attack and perhaps save a life.
The common signs and symptoms of stroke are:
- Sudden weakness or numbness in major parts of the body such as the face, arm, or leg. This paralysis usually occurs on one side of the body.
- Difficulty speaking or understanding speech.
- Severe headache
- Loss of balance or lack of coordination
- Face drooping
- Difficulty swallowing
- Blurred vision
- Constant loss of consciousness
Top 7 Ways to Prevent Stroke Risk
Prevention of stroke is a little bit dicey because some risk factors are beyond our control. Fortunately, the chances of a stroke attack based on its uncontrollable risk are extremely low. These risks include:
Age: study suggests that the older we grow, the higher the chance of a stroke attack.
Genetic factors: such as family history of certain conditions or diseases, is another uncontrollable risk.
Gender: it is more prominent in women than men. According to research, women have a higher lifetime stroke risk, while the attack on men is until age 80.
Ethnicity is more common among African Americans. 5 out of 10 African Americans are susceptible to stroke attacks.
Aside from these uncontrollable risks, below are some surefire ways to reduce your chance of stroke.
Maintaining Normal Blood Pressure
High Blood Pressure is a major factor that can double or even quadruple your stroke risk if it’s not adequately controlled. A study shows that 90% of cases are linked to high blood pressure. Hence, you must monitor your blood pressure; if high, treat it as fast as possible.
Why? This is because High blood pressure (hypertension) causes your heart to work harder in pumping blood, which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. However, managing blood pressure isn’t easy and gets even more complicated with age.
In fact, people within age 65 years and above has a higher risk of being diagnosed with hypertension. Yet, this doesn’t mean maintaining good blood pressure is unachievable.
According to medical experts, normal blood pressure is set at 120/80mg (millimetres of mercury), and a slight increase can fasten your stroke attack. Therefore, you must take your blood pressure readings periodically, as most people with high blood pressure experience no symptoms.
Reduce or Quit Smoking
Smokers are twice as likely to develop an irregular heartbeat, called atrial fibrillation, which significantly increases your chances of stroke. Also, smoking breeds clot formation by thickening your blood and increasing the buildup in the arteries.
One good thing about quitting or reducing your smoking habit is that the result is immediate and reduces your smoke-related risk to a very low percentage.
Exercise has proven not just to improve our physical health but also our mental health. Exercising regularly will reduce your stroke risk by 27%. This is because it helps lower blood pressure, reduce sugar levels, and help to maintain a healthy weight.
Maintain the habit of doing moderate-intensity exercise at least five days a week. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym. It’s something you can do in the comfort of your home. Also, you can exercise your body by engaging in sports like dancing, swimming, cycling, etc., to reduce your stroke risk.
Good Sleeping Habit
Good sleep is one of the underrated yet vital ways to prevent or reduce stroke risk. With the pace and demands of today’s modern world, people place achieving their goals in front of gaining adequate sleep.
Not having a healthy sleeping habit increases your chance of having insomnia, sleep apnoea, fatigue, memory loss, anxiety, depression, and even excessive daytime sleepiness, all of which are strongly linked to stroke. Experts advise that sleeping 7-8 hours per day is important for our overall health and well-being. However, conversely, this study also reveals that sleeping more than nine hours per night can serve as a catalyst to stroke. Therefore, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your sleeping habits—whether you or you don’t get enough sleep.
Prioritize Healthy Diet
Like the famous saying, “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are,” a healthy diet greatly impacts minimizing the attack of cerebrovascular disease. An unhealthy diet will undoubtedly increase your cholesterol levels and, ultimately, blood pressure—a key reagent of stroke.
So, ensuring a balanced diet is essential. Most doctors usually recommend a low-fat, high-fiber diet, like high consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, poult, and whole grains. Additionally, you need to reduce the consumption of foods with high salts, simple sugars, or processed foods.
Reduce Your Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol drinks are high in calories, and excessive consumption will inadvertently lead to high blood pressure or even trigger irregular heartbeat, which may increase stroke risk.
While alcohol is good for the body since it brings some protective benefits to the heart, it’s important to maintain a light or moderate consumption rate. Doing this will increase your good cholesterol (HDL), reducing the risk of this disease.
Improve Blood Cholesterol
One major mistake when it comes to improving blood cholesterol is that most people only focus on bad cholesterol (LDL) and ignore working on good cholesterol (HDL.) However, the fact is improving LDL is as important as having HDL.
In fact, their impacts on stroke risk or reduction differ. While people with high LDL are prone to ischemic stroke attacks, having low HDL also contributes massively to hemorrhagic stroke.
Hence, maintaining a good diet with high protein and fats, such as avocado, fish, nuts, olive oil, etc., is vital to reduce the risk.
Other ways you can prevent this disease include:
One thing that is certain when it’s come to the prevention of stroke is that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy. Therefore, you must consult your doctor to know the best plan for your condition.
But it’s a win: win, as addressing stroke risk will also boost your health in several ways. Which means it’s a win-win for you.
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