Risk factors for stroke prevention
There are two main categories of risk factors to consider for stroke prevention; those we can control and those we can’t. While an uncontrollable risk factor doesn’t guarantee that you will experience a stroke, it’s important to acknowledge them and monitor your health carefully. Uncontrollable risk factors include:
Family history of stroke
Gender (strokes are more common in females than males)
Ethnicity (remote Aboriginal Australians are at higher risk of strokes)
Experiencing a previous stroke
Let’s take a look at the risk factors we can control. The most common stroke risk factors are:
High blood pressure - This leading cause of stroke damages blood vessels.
Diabetes - When poorly controlled can damage blood vessels in the brain.
Smoking - Can cause gradual damage to the cardiovascular system.
Arteriovenous Malformations (AVMs) - Incorrectly formed or tangled blood vessels.
Cholesterol levels - High LDL cholesterol (bad) and low HDL cholesterol (good) can increase risk of stroke.
Inactivity - Can increase risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol as well as diabetes and heart disease.
Poor diet - Saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium can increase blood pressure and cholesterol.
Overweight - Can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.
Excessive alcohol use - Can increase blood pressure and risk of arteriosclerosis.
Existing heart disease - Coronary heart disease, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure and dilated cardiomyopathy are at a greater risk of stroke.
Arteriosclerosis - The buildup of plaque in the arteries that can increase the risk of blockages.
What lifestyle changes can I make to reduce my risk of stroke?
If we can control our risk factors by learning to maintain a healthier lifestyle and monitoring any pre-existing conditions, we are a lot less likely to experience a stroke first hand. Although it's not always easy to make these changes and fall into a healthy routine, your health care professionals can help you to formulate a plan.
A well-balanced diet with all the nutrients your body needs will help to reduce the risk of a stroke. Plenty of fruits, vegetables and wholegrain is key to a healthy diet. Remember, don’t eat too much of one food group, particularly processed foods and foods with high sodium.
As high cholesterol and high blood pressure levels increase your chance of having a stroke, experts recommend eating no more than 6 grams of salt a day, which is equivalent to about 1 teaspoon. Excess salt in your diet can increase your blood pressure. In addition to this, avoiding foods with high saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol and eating foods high in fibre will keep your cholesterol levels low.
Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise is the key combination for a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise can also help to lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and help you to preserve a healthy weight.
Maintaining a healthy weight can decrease your chances of experiencing a stroke. Your doctor can help you to calculate your body mass index (BMI) and other health assessments to evaluate your risk of certain diseases such as a stroke.
For most people, at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week is best. This can include cycling, fast walking, or engaging in a sport of your choice for a short while each day.
If you weren’t already aware, smoking can significantly narrow your arteries and increase the chance of your blood clotting. This means you're at a higher risk of experiencing a stroke as a smoker.
Not to mention, you’re also at risk for other serious conditions such as lung cancer and heart disease. We all know smoking is highly addictive and can be a tough habit to kick. Thankfully, there are lots of strategies out there to help you quit. Speak to your doctor to create a plan that works for you.
Drinking too much alcohol can cause high blood pressure and trigger an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) both of which can increase your risk of having a stroke. If you like an alcoholic beverage, the Australian Department of Health recommends no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks a day for healthy men and women.
However, it should go without saying, the less you drink the lower your risk of associated diseases and medical events related to alcohol consumption.
Implementing the aforementioned lifestyle changes can significantly impact the management of certain conditions and contribute to stroke prevention. However, it’s important to recognise that for a holistic approach to stroke prevention, medication also plays a vital role when it comes to underlying conditions.
If you have a diagnosis that predisposes you to risk of a stroke, the best thing you can do for stroke prevention is to manage it effectively with the help of your healthcare team. That includes:
Cholesterol - You should have your cholesterol checked at least every 5 years with a simple blood test at a doctor's clinic.
Blood pressure - Speak to your doctor about how regularly you should check your blood pressure. You can do this at a clinic, a pharmacy or even at home as long as you’re in a relaxed state.
Diabetes - If you have symptoms of diabetes then you should consult with your GP. If diagnosed, you may have to adjust your diet, administer insulin and check your blood sugar levels regularly.
Heart disease - Your medical team can work with you to recommend medical treatment or surgery if you have a heart condition.
You can work with your healthcare team to find the best solutions to prevent the risk of stroke and other medical conditions. If you have already experienced a stroke, you can work with them to prevent further events, complications or even determine a rehabilitation plan.
Reach out to Maple Community Services for more information about stroke prevention.
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