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Good to know risk factors for stroke

Tue., Sept. 3, 2013, midnight

DEAR DOCTOR K: I’m a woman in my 60s. A good friend recently had a serious stroke. Is there anything she could have done to prevent it?

DEAR READER: Some strokes come out of the blue; they can’t be predicted or prevented. Perhaps your friend suffered from such a stroke.

However, most strokes occur in people who have “risk factors” for stroke, such as an unhealthy lifestyle or a medical condition that is not being adequately treated. Most strokes happen in people who could have done more to protect themselves against one, but didn’t.

The most common cause of a stroke is a sudden blockage in an artery. It’s called an ischemic stroke. A buildup of fat in the wall of a brain artery (a plaque of atherosclerosis) can cause a blockage. A clot traveling through blood can get wedged in the artery.

Less often, a stroke occurs when an artery in the brain bursts, causing a hemorrhage. This, too, severely damages a part of the brain.

There are many things people can – and should – do to reduce their stroke risk:

• Lower blood pressure. Maintain a blood pressure of less than 120/80 mm Hg. Reduce salt in your diet and eat more fruits and vegetables. Those dietary changes will help lower blood pressure. If needed, take blood pressure medicines.

• Lose weight. If you’re overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can have a real impact on your stroke risk.

• Exercise more. Exercise at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes, five days a week. This will reduce your risk of getting a stroke (and many other illnesses), even if you don’t lose weight from regular exercise.

• Drink in moderation. Moderate alcohol intake lowers the risk of stroke. Women can have one drink per day; men can have up to two.

• Take medicines your doctor has recommended for heart and blood vessel conditions. For example, a daily baby aspirin or a blood thinner for atrial fibrillation, or sugar-lowering medicines if you have diabetes.

• Quit smoking. Smoking accelerates clot formation. Use aids such as nicotine pills or patches, counseling or medicine to help you kick the habit.


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