Jatin Shah, MD, is a director of neurology and stroke services at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center. His office can be reached at (623) 972-3800.
Question: Two friends recently had strokes and I’m worried about having one myself. What can I do to help prevent a stroke?
Answer: The unfortunate reality is that stroke comes with very little warning. A person may be fine one minute and suffer a stroke the next. Since it can occur so suddenly, the best prevention is to understand your risk, make lifestyle choices to reduce your risk and be aware of common symptoms.
Stroke, which results from a blood clot in the heart or brain, has several risk factors. While many of these factors are directly related to lifestyle, some are out of our control. Stroke can occur at any age, but elderly individuals are at a significantly higher risk. Given that we can’t stop the aging process, it’s important to focus on healthy lifestyle choices to reduce the risk.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, carotid artery blockage, irregular heartbeats and circulation problems, including blood clotting problems, increase the risk of stroke. Managing these factors not only reduces the chance of having a stroke, it also improves overall health.
With proper supervision from a physician, diet, exercise and medication can go a long way toward improving factors like high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, etc. Similarly, quitting smoking also has positive health benefits that decrease the likelihood of stroke. However, there are no guarantees that improving your risk factors will keep stroke at bay; therefore, you should know the warning signs and be prepared to take immediate action.
The sudden onset of stroke means the window of opportunity to get help and minimize the damage is small. People often experience one or more of the following symptoms shortly before having a stroke: speech problems, headache, dizziness, weakness and numbness, vision problems and vomiting. Many times, these symptoms can present for less than 24 hours and occur on only one side of the body. Pay attention to the warning signs and seek immediate medical attention if you believe you may be having a stroke.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, it affected 6.5 million people in 2006, the last year for which statistics are available. With proper medical care in the early stages, recovery is possible. However, prevention is always better than a cure. Know your risk and work to reduce it.