A person’s health can be like a stack of dominoes; knock one factor out and many more tip over.
Doctors can help a person strengthen their pillars of health, improving many aspects of life and reducing the chance of a life-threatening stroke.
Prevention with the help of a medical team:
Manage high blood pressure. Hypertension is the greatest risk factor for a later stroke, doubling or quadrupling the chance of one occurring. A medical team should help the patient come up with a strategy to lower blood pressure into the normal range. This strategy may include:
- Eating more fruits and vegetables and less salt.
- Losing weight and remaining in the healthy BMI range.
- Swapping medications that raise blood pressure for alternatives.
- Designing an exercise plan that increasing cardio and weight training exercise to lower blood pressure.
- Manage heart disease. A number of heart disorders increase the risk of stroke. These include defects in the heart valves, enlarged heart chambers, and irregular pulse, which is also known as atrial fibrillation. Afib alone is responsible for a quarter of the strokes in people after age 80. These conditions increase the chance of life threatening blood clots travelling into the brain.
They need to be carefully monitored by a medical team; surgical intervention may be necessary.
- Manage blood vessel disease. The most common one is atherosclerosis, or the blocking of blood vessels by cholesterol-based plaque deposits. Hypertension raises the chance of developing this disease and increases the damage to the artery walls. Management may be as simple as taking medication, perhaps aspirin, to prevent clot formation. Aspirin therapy can have long term consequences for other aspects of health and should be discussed with a doctor before beginning it. Atherosclerosis may also require surgery to clean the clogged arteries. Again, discuss treatment options with a doctor.
- Manage cholesterol. High cholesterol, the LDL levels of particular concern, can increase the chance of atherosclerosis. Lowering cholesterol in the blood removes some of the material from the system that can block arteries and cause stroke. A doctor can give information about diet and lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol levels; there are also several medications that do so.
- Manage Diabetes.
Diabetes has a number of ill effects on the body, from how the body uses sugar to raising blood pressure to effects on the blood vessels themselves. The presence of this gives a person the stroke risk of someone 15 years older. A high blood sugar level at the time of stroke is also associated with more severe brain damage. The good news is that diabetes can be treated, even reversed to some extent, with dedication and medical supervision.
- Work with your medical support team. Be organized and diligent about taking medicine, on time and in the amounts prescribed. A pill organizer can help; there are also reminder apps for smartphones. Follow the pill bottle instructions carefully and talk to a doctor about any questions or side effects that come up.
There are a number of things one can do at home to reduce stroke risk. These range from quitting smoking, reducing drinking, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, working enough physical activity into the daily routine. These strategies are easy to talk about and can be challenging to actually do; talk to a medical team if advice or support is needed.
Strokes can wreak havoc in the body, but with open communication with a doctor, many can be prevented.