Stroke: Know the Risk Factors and How to Prevent Stroke

When blood supply to the brain is prevented, either due to a blood clot or a ruptured blood vessel, it can result in stroke. The lack of blood supply prevents oxygen and nutrients from reaching the brain cells and can cause the brain cells to die. While stroke is a leading cause of disability and the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., 80% of strokes can be prevented. Read on to learn about preventing stroke.

Symptoms to Look Out for

While these may vary, typical symptoms of stroke include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination
  • Sudden severe headache due to unknown cause

If you suspect someone is suffering a stroke, the My Stroke of Hope recommends to be B.E. F.A.S.T.:

B-Balance: Ask if the person experienced loss of balance, dizziness, or sudden severe headache

E-Eyes: Ask the person if they blurred vision or trouble seeing in both eyes

F-Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A-Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S-Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?

T-Time: If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away.

A Stroke Survivor’s Story 

Stacy Quinn is a young stroke survivor who uses her experience to advocate and raise awareness about this condition. Read more about her experience and the work of her organization.

Know the Risks

Certain risk factors of stroke can be controlled while other factors cannot be.

Controllable Risk Factors

  • Smoking: Quit smoking! Tobacco and nicotine use damages the heart muscles, arteries, and veins, which in turn can lead to stroke. Stop smoking, vaping, and tobacco use to reduce your risk of hypertension and stroke. These resources can help you through the process.
  • Diet: A diet that is low in salt and saturated/trans fats and includes fresh fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of stroke. Consider using this guideline on healthy lifestyle from the American Heart Association to lower your risk.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension): Understanding your blood pressure and keeping it low is important.
    • Normal: less than 120 mm of Hg (systolic number) and less than 80 mm of Hg (diastolic number)
    • Elevated: 120-129 mm of Hg (systolic) and less than 80 mm of Hg (diastolic)
    • Hypertension:
      • Stage 1: 130-139 mm of Hg (systolic) and 80-89 mm of Hg (diastolic)
      • Stage II: 140 mm of Hg or higher (systolic) and 90 mm of Hg or higher (diastolic)
    • Hypertensive crisis: 180 mm of Hg or higher (systolic) and/or 120 mm of Hg or higher (diastolic)
  • Diabetes: For patients with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, keeping your blood sugar levels under control is important to avoid stroke.
  • Monitoring Other Diseases that Can be Risk Factors: High blood cholesterol, carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease, sickle cell disease, are a few other conditions that can increase stroke risk. Managing these conditions in collaboration with your doctor can reduce the risk of stroke.

Risk Factors You Cannot Control

  • Age: The risk of stroke increases with age—the risk doubles every 10 years in those 55 and older. However, adolescents and young adults are also susceptible to stroke, most likely due to obesity, blood pressure, and diabetes.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to die from stroke than men—pregnancy, use of birth control pills, and hormone replacement therapy increase women’s risk of stroke. 
  • Race: African Americans are at a higher risk of stroke compared to Caucasians and they also are at a higher risk of dying from stroke. Hispanic populations are seeing a rise in death due to stroke.
  • Family History: If your first-degree relative—parent or sibling—has had a stroke, it increases your risk.
  • Prior Stroke, Transient Ischemic Attack, or Heart Attack: These increase your risk of stroke.

Here are some good resources for stroke prevention and management:

Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D. is a biologist who provides writing and strategic support to non-profit groups via her consultancy, SDG AdvoHealth, LLC.

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Surabhi Dangi Garamella

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