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9 ways to control the risk factors that cause most strokes

Posted on by Christine M. Stabler, MD, MBA

 

Stroke is a leading cause of disability and death worldwide, killing nearly six million people each year, and leaving another 5 million permanently disabled. Research shows that most strokes can be traced to 10 risk factors. The good news is you can control many of these risk factors with fairly simple lifestyle changes.

The ongoing INTERSTROKE study – the world’s largest study on stroke risk factors – looked at more than 27,000 people in 32 countries and determined the following risk factors explain 90 percent of strokes in all regions:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) -- the most significant risk factor
  • Lipids (high cholesterol)
  • Smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Abdominal obesity
  • Heart issues
  • A diet high in fats and sugars
  • Alcohol intake (more than 30 drinks per month or binge drinking)
  • Diabetes
  • Psychosocial stress and depression

Taking charge of your risk factors

By modifying some of these risk factors, you can help prevent this potentially devastating attack on your brain. Researchers said the most important thing you can do to lower your risk of stroke is to pay attention to your blood pressure. High blood pressure accounted for one-third of all strokes in the study.

9 guidelines to help prevent stroke

Thanks to the INTERSTROKE study and other research, we have been able to hone in on the most effective actions you can take to reduce your risk of stroke.

  • Know your blood pressure and seek treatment, if necessary. Take medications as prescribed and follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet. DASH, developed to prevent and treat high blood pressure, is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats, and low in saturated fats.
  • If you smoke, quit. Need help quitting? Consider group or individual classes.
  • Check your cholesterol periodically with your doctor and eat a diet low in saturated fats.
  • Exercise regularly, ideally 30 minutes most days. Walking counts!
  • Limit alcohol consumption to no more than 1-2 servings per day.
  • Reduce your intake of salt, ideally no more than 2,300 mg per day.
  • Take control of your diabetes; discuss diet and other treatment options with your family physician or endocrinologist. Try to keep blood sugars in the normal range.
  • If you are overweight, try to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight/BMI.
  • Reduce stress levels.

For more information on stroke risk factors, prevention, and how to spot a stroke FAST, go to www.lghealth.org/stroke.

 | Family & Maternity Medicine

Christine M. Stabler, MD, MBA, is a family medicine physician with LG Health Physicians Family & Maternity Medicine and Vice President for Academic Affairs for LG Health. Education: Undergraduate–Pennsylvania State University; Medical School–Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University; Residency–Lancaster General Hospital Family Medicine Residency Program; Fellowship—Temple University Hospital.

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