10 ways to avoid a stroke

Stroke prevention starts with you

December 10, 2013
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When it comes to stroke, there’s good news and bad news.

“The good news is that 80 percent of strokes are preventable with proper medical care and simple lifestyle changes,” says Dr. Vivek Jain, director of the UC Irvine Health Comprehensive Stroke & Cerebrovascular Center. “The bad news is that strokes still affect almost 800,000 people each year, with two-thirds developing some form of long-term disability.”

Want to get serious about stroke prevention? Here’s how to start:

1.   Watch your blood pressure

“Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a silent killer and is the single biggest modifiable risk factor for stroke,” says Jain. “Even if you don’t suspect you have a problem, get your blood pressure measured regularly—at the drug store, at health fairs or at home. And see your doctor for wellness visits.” A consistent reading of 140/80 or more is considered high blood pressure and time to begin treatment. Controlling high blood pressure means reducing salt intake, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a good weight. Some people require medication.

2.   Lose weight

Being overweight increases your risk of having a stroke. Your doctor can help you lose weight with a program that includes diet, exercise and other medical treatments.

3.   Get serious about nutrition

Steer clear of processed foods and those high in saturated and trans fat. Eat a low-calorie diet with five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. “Research shows that a Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, some nuts, and olive oil, with small amounts of fish, poultry and low-fat dairy, is good for preventing stroke,” says Jain.

4.   Shake the salt habit

To be on the healthy side, keep your sodium intake at no more than 2,300 mg per day—and 1,500 mg if you’re over 51, African-American, have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

5.   Control diabetes

Your chances of having a stroke quadruple if you have diabetes. But you can lower your risk with physical activity, a healthy diet, medicine, not smoking, and keeping your blood-sugar levels on target.

6.   Be alert for atrial fibrillation

If your heartbeat is irregular, you should be checked for atrial fibrillation. “This abnormal heartbeat can increase stroke risk by 500 percent as it can cause blood to pool in the heart and may form a clot, which can lead to stroke,” says Jain. Treatment with anticoagulants is usually needed.

7.   Ditch cigarettes

Smoking doubles your chance of suffering a stroke. It damages blood vessels, speeds artery clogging, raises blood pressure and makes the heart work harder.

8.   Watch your cholesterol

A high cholesterol level is a red flag that plaque deposits may be narrowing the walls of your arteries. This can lead to a heart attack or stroke. If you can’t lower your cholesterol with lifestyle changes, medications—such as statins—can help.

9.   Exercise

Get at least 30 minutes of brisk physical activity five times a week to keep your stroke-prevention program on track.

10.   Take your medication

If your doctor prescribes medication for high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes or atrial fibrillation, it’s important to take it as directed. Don’t skip days, or decide to quit cold turkey because you’re worried about side effects. Instead, talk to your doctor immediately about your concerns. 

Even if you’re following the best preventive practices, it’s important to know the facts about stroke centers. “We were recently designated as a comprehensive stroke center by The Joint Commission,” says Jain. “We are the first in Orange County to receive the designation as comprehensive. This means that we’re equipped and staffed 24 hours a day to meet the highest standards for stroke care.”

Learn more about the UC Irvine Health Comprehensive Stroke & Cerebrovascular Center or call toll free 866-STROKE3.

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