Lifestyle Changes can Prevent Strokes

Lifestyle changes are sometimes the most difficult to make, but as Stroke Awareness Month (May) winds down, it’s important to talk about what can be improved upon to prevent a stroke from occurring.

Maintaining a healthy weight, following a healthy diet and participating in regular exercise can help prevent many diseases, including stroke, said Jennifer Smith, stroke-care specialist with Meritus Medical Center.

Smith finds that while patients are often motivated to improve their health after a stroke, many do not think about proactively managing stroke risks.

Here are the key areas Smith said people should focus on to try and prevent strokes:

• High blood pressure. Known as the silent killer, hypertension is the leading cause of strokes. Know your blood-pressure numbers — higher than 120/80 mm Hg is considered high — and get your blood pressure checked at least every year.

• Smoking. It doubles the risk of strokes. Nicotine and carbon monoxide damage arterial walls, and make them thicken and narrow with accumulated plaque. Join a cessation class or ask your primary-care physician for assistance to quit because it takes less than three months for your circulation to improve, making your blood less likely to form dangerous clots.

• Alcohol and other drugs. They raise blood pressure and can contribute to the hardening of arteries. Misuse of prescription opioids or illegal drugs can also increase the risk of strokes. Limit alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Avoid illegal drugs at all costs.

• A poor diet. If you mostly eat food high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, you are likely raising your cholesterol levels. In addition, taking in more calories than you burn leads to weight gain, and possibly obesity and diabetes. Consume more fruits, vegetables, fish, beans and lean meats, like skinless chicken.

• Physical inactivity. Without exercise, your heart function is negatively affected, which can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Start by walking just 10 minutes each day and gradually increase walking to 30 minutes, five days a week. You’ll begin to experience more energy, less stress, better sleep and improved muscle strength.

Smith said it’s vital that everyone knows the signs of a stroke to be able to get immediate medical attention.

“Remember stroke signs and symptoms with the acronym BE FAST,” she said:

• Balance. An unsteady walk, dizziness, “room spinning” and nausea/vomiting could be present.

• Eyes. Vision changes, including blurry or double vision, partial vision loss or blindness in one or both eyes might indicate a stroke.

• Facial droop. Muscle weakness on one side of the face often with an uneven smile is common.

• Arm weakness. This can be one-sided body weakness in your face, an arm and/or a leg.

• Speech changes. Slurred or confused speech, difficulty finding words or becoming mute could all indicate a stroke.

• Time to call 911! Call immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

BE FAST was developed by Intermountain Healthcare as an adaptation of the FAST model implemented by the American Stroke Association.