Stroke is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States, and each year, approximately 800,000 people suffer from a stroke. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is one of the most common causes of stroke because of the strain it causes on blood vessels, and subsequent damage to arteries. Diane Pagan, MSN, ANP, director of Westmed’s Complex Care Program, explains more about stroke and what you can do to reduce your risk.
What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is interrupted or reduced, preventing brain tissue from getting oxygen and nutrients. Brain cells then start to die (in minutes!), often leaving the person permanently disabled, if not treated quickly. Since our brain controls our thoughts and movements, if even a small section dies due to a stroke, it can affect a person’s ability to think, move or function.
Types of stroke
There are two types of stroke: (1) hemorrhagic stroke, where blood vessels in the brain burst and (2) ischemic stroke, where blood vessels in the brain get blocked by a clot. The majority of strokes are ischemic. With both types of strokes, the affected part of the brain is blocked from the vital blood and oxygen it needs to survive.
Who is at risk?
Causes of stroke include ischemia (loss of blood supply) or hemorrhage (bleeding) in the brain. People at risk for stroke include those who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and those who smoke. People with heart rhythm disturbances, especially atrial fibrillation are also at risk. Other risk factors, which are more difficult to control, include race/ethnicity, family history of high blood pressure, age, gender (males), obstructive sleep apnea and kidney disease.
What you can do to lower your risk of stroke
One of the most important things you can do to lower your risk of stroke is to know and control your blood pressure. There are also various lifestyle modifications to reduce the risk:
- Cut down on excessive smoking and alcohol.
- Exercise regularly. It is recommended to exercise 30 minutes each day.
- Adopt a healthy diet; increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you consume and cut down on excessive salt and fatty foods.
- Know and control your blood sugar and cholesterol.
- Know the warning signs/symptoms of stroke and seek care immediately if you experience these:
o Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
o Sudden confusion or trouble understanding
o Sudden trouble speaking
o Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
o Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
o Sudden severe headache with no known cause
It’s important to ask about your primary care physician about your blood pressure at your annual checkup. If your blood pressure is high, make sure to regularly check your blood pressure between appointments.