Most of us have known someone who has had a stroke. And while sometimes a stroke can be minor, most of the time they have a longer-term impact on health and lifestyle and can even be fatal. Keep reading to discover five facts about stroke that may help you prevent it.
Stroke can occur at any age, and having one means you’re at a greater risk for a second
Although those over 65 account for the majority of strokes, anyone, including babies and children, can have a stroke at any time. According to the CDC, about 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke every year—and about 1 out of 4 of those strokes are recurrent strokes. Having one stroke means you have a greater risk of having another (or recurrent) stroke.
There’s more than one kind of stroke
While people use the general term “stroke,” many don’t know that there are two distinct types.
Most strokes (87%) that occur fall into the category of ischemic strokes. An ischemic stroke happens when blood flow through the artery that supplies blood to the brain becomes blocked. Ischemic strokes are primarily caused by blood clots and atherosclerosis – fatty deposits lining the vessel walls.
Hemorrhagic stroke accounts for around 13% of all strokes and happens when a weakened vessel in the brain leaks blood or breaks open and bleeds into the surrounding brain. The leaked blood puts too much pressure on brain cells, which damages them.
The majority of strokes are preventable
According to the CDC, up to 80% of strokes could be prevented through healthy lifestyle changes and working with your health care team to control health conditions that raise your risk for stroke.
Here are some risk factors that you can control to help prevent stroke:
- Your Overall Health (weight, activity, diet, BP, cholesterol) – Some of the most modifiable risk factors for stroke involve things your doctor recommends doing for your overall health. These include keeping your weight in a healthy range, staying active, eating healthfully, and keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol in recommended ranges.
Oftentimes, these risk factors are linked to one another. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the single most important risk factor for stroke. Carrying extra weight, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and eating a diet high in sodium may increase your risk of developing hypertension. When it comes to cholesterol, a diet high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels. So eating properly and staying active can start a domino effect that can reduce your risk in a variety of ways.
- Your Habits (Smoking, Drugs & Alcohol) – According to the World Health Organization, 2 out of 5 stroke deaths of those under the age of 65 are linked to smoking. So quitting smoking (or not starting in the first place!) is in your best interests when it comes to reducing stroke risk.
Drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per day is also associated with stroke risk. And street drug use, even marijuana, has been shown to increase the risk of stroke. Some of these drugs can cause a stroke by directly affecting the brain’s blood vessels, while others cause damage to the heart, which can indirectly lead to stroke.
Learn more in this recent article about stroke risk.
The signs, symptoms, and risk factors of stroke are different for men and women
Stroke is the third leading cause of death for women and because women typically live longer than men, stroke has the potential to have a more negative effect on their lives. They are more likely to be living alone when a stroke occurs, and the recovery is likely to be more difficult.
In addition, women may experience symptoms that are not typically associated with stroke. They can include (via National Stroke Association):
- Loss of consciousness or fainting
- General weakness
- Difficulty or shortness of breath
- Confusion, unresponsiveness, or disorientation
- Sudden behavioral change
- Nausea or vomiting
This can create issues, as they are often not recognized as a stroke symptom, and treatment is often delayed. And the best chance of treatment occurs within the first few hours of the stroke occurring.
Women also have additional risk factors that men do not. According to the National Stroke Association, women in the following situations have an increased risk of stroke:
- Taking birth control pills. The greatest concern about using oral contraceptives is for women with additional risk factors, such as age, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure or diabetes.
- Being pregnant. Stroke risk increases during a normal pregnancy due to natural changes in the body such as increased blood pressure and stress on the heart.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) HRT is a combined hormone therapy of progestin and estrogen used to relieve menopausal symptoms.
- Suffering from migraine headaches with aura. Migraines can increase a woman’s stroke risk two and a half times and most people in the U.S. who suffer migraines are women.
Your risk of stroke is increased during certain procedures
Certain types of procedures carry an additional risk of stroke because of the way they are performed. One example is a cardiac procedure in which a catheter is used. The use of the catheter rather than a surgical method is less invasive, but during the process, debris can break loose and travel through the bloodstream. Should this debris travel to the brain, it could cause a stroke.
If you are undergoing any cardiac procedures, be sure to ask your doctor about the risk of stroke and if there are any ways you can protect yourself. He or she may recommend reducing your risk through lifestyle factors.
Having a stroke can be devastating but being educated on the facts can go a long way toward preventing it from happening in the first place. Being aware of the risk factors, causes, and symptoms and then taking the appropriate action is the key.
If your loved one needs assistance lowering their risk of stroke through lifestyle changes, bringing in a caregiver to help might be a good solution. A caregiver can help with medication reminders, healthy meal prep, exercise, and getting your parent to medical appointments. Many of our caregivers are specially trained and educated on stroke through our Stroke Specialty Program. Book a time to chat with a client service specialist today to learn more.
- Preventing Stroke: Healthy Living – CDC
- Tobacco & Stroke – WHO
- Women Have a Higher Risk of Stroke – American Stroke Association