Of the 800,000 strokes suffered by people in the U.S. each year, 25 percent are recurrent – they happen to people who’ve already had a stroke.
And second strokes can be far more devastating than the first.
“The effects on already damaged tissue can be that much worse,” Dr. Mark Gordon, a physiatry physician, told a crowd of stroke survivors and their family members earlier this month as part of National Stroke Awareness Month activities at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute.
Within five years of having their first stroke, 25 percent of female stroke victims and 50 percent of male victims will have another, Gordon said.
They can’t do anything about some risk factors, such as their age, gender, race, family history – or the fact that they’ve already had a stroke.
But stroke survivors can take measures to significantly reduce their chances of having another, according to Gordon.
Tips for reducing the risk of a recurrent stroke, compiled from Gordon’s talk and information from the National Stroke Association:
• Exercise every day. It doesn’t have to be a marathon or a mile. It can be gardening or cleaning out the closet.
• Limit your alcohol intake.
• Lower your blood pressure. A blood pressure of 120/80 is ideal for most people, according to the National Stroke Association. Losing weight and boosting activity levels can go a long way toward this goal. A diet that includes little salt, lots of fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products may help, too.
• Stop smoking. Quitting is easier said than done, but smoking doubles your risk for a recurrent stroke. That’s because it reduces the oxygen in your blood, which allows blood clots to form more easily. Smoking also increases build-up in your arteries that can block blood flow to your brain.
• Talk to your doctor about whether any drugs would be appropriate for you to help you reduce your risk of recurrent stroke. Those could be drugs that reduce your blood’s ability to clot or medications that reduce blood pressure or cholesterol levels.
Andy Samek, 65, of Spokane, said he suffered a stroke in July 2010. He suffered eight more over four days in the hospital. His entire left side was paralyzed.
He was at the St. Luke’s event walking around and chatting with acquaintances. He’s working to avoid stroke No. 10, he said, by exercising an hour and a half every morning, working in his shop and mowing the lawn.
“I get plenty of exercise,” he said. “And right now I get three-quarter miles out walking. I’m shooting for a mile.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.