Friday, October 14, 2011

Prevention: The Most Effective Treatment for Stroke

Something I've noticed each time that I've been sick – whether I'm home with a cold or it's something more serious – is that I don't appreciate my good health until I no longer have it.

The same is true of most people. We take for granted that we can speak with ease or move without pain until we can't anymore.

This approach can cause problems down the road, when we're not being proactive to reduce our risk of disease, including stroke, the leading cause of disability in the United States.

Stroke can cause problems with:
  • speech,
  • vision,
  • movement, or
  • memory.
You might have trouble swallowing or making small, precise movements like picking up a coin. Headaches, joint pain, even paralysis could result.

But here's the good news: up to 80% of strokes can be prevented.

Dr. Lee-Kwen, Medical Director of the Mercy Hospital Stroke Center, says that people are sometimes not scared of stroke, which is why they don't make the lifestyle changes that can prevent it.

"Stroke prevention is the most effective and least expensive form of stroke treatment," says Dr. Lee-Kwen. "It is not one single step but a combination of steps – to knowing your personal risk factors to changing your lifestyle and eating habits and being on the most appropriate medication for stroke prevention."

Why Age Matters

Your risk for stroke increases after the age of 65, but it may occur at an earlier age in people with vascular risks such as smoking, diabetes, hypertension or heart disease, says Dr. Lee-Kwen.

When stroke occurs in younger patients (ranging in ages from children to middle age), it's usually due to abnormalities of the heart wall or valves or due to blood disorders that make the blood clot easily.

Stroke is also common in people who have a family history of stroke. African Americans are at an increased risk, as are women, who are less likely than men to recover.

Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Your Risk

Even if you don't fall into the at-risk group, the lifestyle changes listed below can help to prevent a number of diseases and improve your quality of life.

Keep an Eye on Your Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and the most important controllable risk factor for stroke. Have your blood pressure screened regularly to keep yours in check.

Catholic Health offers free screenings throughout the community by experienced nurses who can advise you on how to stay healthy. Click here for upcoming dates.

Stop Smoking

Smoking damages the cardiovascular system, making you more likely to experience a stroke.

Stay Away from Salt

Diets high in sodium can contribute to increased blood pressure. Salt is the usual culprit, but there are others as well. Sodium bicarb is in baked goods, and Sodium nitrite is in preserved meats, says Dr. Lee-Kwen.

Take a Walk After Dinner

"Walking for about 30 minutes on most days is recommended and probably has the greatest efficacy in reducing stroke risk," says Dr. Lee-Kwen.

For people with diabetes, walking after large meals can help to lower glucose levels.

In addition to preventing stroke, being active can help to ward off:
  • high blood pressure, 
  • high blood cholesterol, 
  • diabetes, and 
  • heart disease.

Also, remember to make regular visits to your doctor, at least once a year. He or she will continue to monitor your health and take note of any stroke risks.

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