How to prevent getting a stroke? What must you do?

June 25, 2024
Avatar for Jyoti Kinghorn, PhDJyoti Kinghorn, PhD
Stay active to reduce risk of stroke

Strokes are devastating health emergencies that can cause significant brain damage and lasting cognitive and physical disabilities. Strokes happen when the brain is deprived of oxygen. This can happen because of internal bleeding (which causes hemorrhagic strokes), or a blockage in the arteries that supply blood to the brain (which causes ischemic strokes).

Blockage in arteries is often due to plaque formation. Plaque in arteries consists of fatty deposits, cholesterol, calcium, fibrin, and other cellular debris. The effects of plaque on blood flow may not be significant in the beginning, but as the plaque deposits gradually increase, they can significantly slow down or stop blood flow.

When plaque deposits interrupt blood flow from the lungs to the heart, it can cause a heart attack. When they interrupt blood flow from the heart to the brain, it can cause a stroke.

When someone has a stroke, they need emergency medical treatment to restore the blood flow to the brain. Each second of stroke before treatment causes damage.

Did you know?

A stroke ages the brain by about 36 years.

You lose 32,000 neurons per second during a stroke.

The brain’s aging accelerates by an estimated 8.7 hours per second of stroke.

A large majority of strokes can be prevented through healthy habits that promote cardiovascular health and prevent blood clot formation.

Prevent Stroke by developing healthy habits

The American Heart Association recommends four essential health behaviors to improve cardiovascular health and prevent strokes:

1. Eating healthy

Foods that contain cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats can cause buildup of fat deposits and plaque in the arteries.

Healthy fix. Opt for a plant-based diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Eating a healthy diet also helps avoid obesity- one of the major controllable causes of stroke.

Salads stop strokes

Salads Stop Strokes

A plant-based diet rich in phytonutrients can lower your risk of stroke and cancer in 4 ways - 1. reducing overall cholesterol; 2. reducing overall inflammation; 3. improving cardiac health; and 4. boosting immunity.

2. Being more active

Avoiding sedentary behaviors, increasing one’s step count, and engaging in high MET exercises is good for cardiovascular health. Good cardiovascular health improves blood flow and prevents strokes.

Healthy fix. Get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. If you have already had a stroke, or have other preexisting health conditions such as arthritis, discuss any new workouts with your doctor before starting. 

3. Stopping tobacco use

Smoking cigarettes is a known risk factor for strokes. It increases blood pressure, reduces oxygen availability in the blood, exposes blood vessels to thousands of damaging chemicals, and causes the development of blood clots. All these factors result in an increased risk of strokes.

The link between vaping and strokes is not as clear, but it is suspected that vaping can also increase the risk of strokes.

Healthy fix. Tobacco addiction can be broken! Use CDC’s guidelines and take advantage of their “quitlines” to get free coaching to help you quit right from the comfort of your home.
Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to access these services.

4. Getting adequate sleep.

Sleeping 7-9 hours is recommended for adults. Insufficient sleep causes increases in the heart rate, blood pressure, stress levels, and inflammation in the body- all of which contribute to strokes.

Healthy fix. Make sleep a priority by setting an alarm to start winding down for the night. Remove distracting electronics such as TVs, laptops, tablets, and cell phones from your bedroom.

Prevent Stroke by Controlling Risk Factors

Strokes can occur if health conditions that increase the risk of strokes are not adequately controlled.

These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Hypercholesterolemia
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Heart disease

If you have any of these health conditions, stay on your medications to keep them under control and speak with your doctor about how you can reduce your risk of stroke.

Facts to remember about strokes

  1. Young people can get strokes. Even though the risk of stroke increases with older age, the number of younger individuals having strokes is sharply increasing.
  2. Watch out for mini-strokes that last only a few minutes. These are called transient ischemic attacks (TIA). A TIA is often a warning signal before a real stroke. About 1 in 3 TIAs are followed by a stroke. Therefore, if you think that you or someone close to you may have had a TIA, it should be treated as a medical emergency. Options should be discussed with healthcare providers to take measures or prescriptions to reduce the risk of getting a stroke.
  3. If you have had a stroke, there is a higher chance of having a second stroke. 23% of people who have a stroke also go on to have a second stroke. Discuss the reason you may have had the first stroke with your doctor to take measures to mitigate the risk of a second one.
  4. Young women’s risk of stroke increases during pregnancy and in the postpartum period after childbirth. The risk of stroke can also increase when taking birth control pills with high levels of estrogen levels in them.
  5. Strokes can occur due to factors out of your control, such as congenital heart disease, such as:
    • Congenital heart defect
    • Issues with the heart’s structure
    • Viral infection
    • Antiphospholipid syndrome
  6. When risk factors and behaviors for strokes are controlled, a majority of strokes are preventable.

The information provided in our blog posts is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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