How to Cut Your Odds of a Stroke
Although women have a lower risk of stroke during middle age than men, menopause is when many women develop cardiovascular risk factors, and during the 10 years after menopause, the risk of stroke roughly doubles in women.
A stroke happens when blood stops flowing to part of your brain. The cells begin to die, and you may have damage to areas that control muscles, memory, and speech.
Although the risk rises at menopause and beyond, there are some proactive steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Risk factor 1: blood pressure
If you have high blood pressure and you don’t manage it well, your chances of getting a stroke go up. Ideally, your blood pressure should be under 120 over 80.
If yours is too high, talk to your doctor first about ways to change your diet and get more exercise. If that’s not enough to control it, they may prescribe medication to help.
Risk factor 2: not enough exercise
Exercise helps you get to or stay at a healthy weight and keep your blood pressure where it should be — two things that can lower your odds of having a stroke.
You’ll need to work out enough to break a sweat but talk to your doctor first if you’re not in great health or haven’t been that active in a while.
Risk factor 3: high stress levels
Stress can make it more likely you’ll get a stroke, maybe because it causes inflammation in parts of your body.
If you’re stressed at work, try some simple things to reduce it. First, get up and move around often, breathe deeply, and focus on one task at a time. Socialise with colleagues and if possible make your work area a calm space with plants. Get out of the office for a walk at lunchtime whenever possible.
Stress at home is different: it may be you are over burdened with caring responsibilities, or in a difficult relationship, or just feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope. Simple measures such as mediation, talking to friends and relaxation methods can all help and keep a ‘stress journal’ to pinpoint just what is affecting you the most.
Risk factor 4: being overweight
Obesity and the health issues it can cause — diabetes and high blood pressure — boost your chances of stroke.
You can lower the odds if you lose as few as 10 pounds and try to keep your calorie count under 2,000 a day, as well as finding time for regular exercise – whether that’s the gym, dance class or walking the dog.
Risk factor 5: alcohol consumption
For years, doctors thought that a drink a day may help protect against stroke, but the latest research suggests that this may not be true because if you have more than two, your stroke risk quickly shoots up.
Heavy drinking can also lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes — all things that raise your odds of having a stroke.
Risk factor 6: high cholesterol
High levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol and low levels of HDL “good” cholesterol can raise your chances of having plaque buildup in your arteries, which limits blood flow and can lead to a stroke.
Cutting down on saturated and trans fats can help lower your LDL, and exercise can boost your HDL. If those don’t do the trick, your doctor may prescribe medication to help with your levels.
Risk factor 7: an irregular heartbeat
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is an irregular heart rhythm that makes you five times more likely to have a stroke.
If you notice a racing or irregular heartbeat, see your doctor to find out what’s causing it as if it’s AFib, they might be able to treat you with medicine that lowers your heart rate and cuts the odds you’ll get blood clots.
In some cases, they may try to reset your heart’s rhythm with medication or a brief electrical shock.
Risk factor 8: diabetes
This condition affects how your body uses glucose, an important source of energy for your brain and the cells that make up your muscles and tissues.
It can raise your odds of having a stroke, so it’s important to monitor your blood sugar carefully and follow instructions on diet and medication.
Risk factor 9: low fibre intake
The magic number here is 7: For every 7 grams of fibre you add to your daily diet, your stroke risk goes down by 7%.
You should get about 25 grams a day: that is six to eight servings of whole grains, or eight to 10 servings of vegetables.
Risk factor 10: too few flavonoids and dark chocolate
These are plant-based chemicals in cocoa that have all kinds of health benefits. For example, they can help with inflammation, and that can relieve pressure on your heart.
Studies show a little dark chocolate a day (minimum 70%) helps prevent heart attacks and strokes in people with a higher chance of having heart disease. Just don’t overdo it because chocolate has sugar and saturated fat which are not so good for you.
Risk factor 11: smoking
Smoking makes your blood more likely to clot, thickens and narrows your blood vessels, and leads to the buildup of plaque — all of which make you more likely to have a stroke.
Risk factor 12: inadequate diet
A balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, fish, lean meat, and whole grains can help lower your cholesterol. That means plaque is less likely to build up in your arteries and form clots.
It also can help protect you from other conditions that raise your odds of having a stroke, like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Risk factor 13: skipping meds
This sounds like an easy one, but a lot of people have a hard time with it. Take your medicine for blood pressure, diabetes, and heart health on time and as prescribed.
If you’re concerned about side effects, talk to your doctor before skipping your medications or taking less than you’re supposed to.
If you suspect someone is having a stroke you need to act immediately as it will make a huge difference to the outcome. The FAST test helps spot symptoms and stands for:
Face drooping. Ask for a smile. Does one side droop?
Arm weakness or numbness.
Speech. Can the person repeat a simple sentence? Do they have trouble or slur words?
Time to call 911. Don’t delay.
Every second counts as without oxygen, brain cells begin dying within minutes. Once brain tissue has died, the body parts controlled by that area won’t work right. This makes stroke a top cause of long-term disability. There are clot-busting drugs that can curb brain damage, and they must be given in a short time — usually within 3 hours of when symptoms start.
There has been noted an increased stroke risk with oral contraceptives and oestrogen dominance so keeping hormones in balance is critical.
Normal brain function needs progesterone and is required for the nervous system. An important role of progesterone is to protect the brain from damage and promote repair after injury such as a stroke so it has a protective effect by promoting the growth and repair of the myelin sheath that protects the nerve fibres.
If you want to know more on how to recognise a stroke or TIA, this article can help.