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You Have the Power to Prevent Strokes

May 02, 2019

And it’s as easy as making a few good choices.

Stroke remains the second leading cause of death worldwide, even though it is preventable in most cases. There is a lot you can do to lower your chances of heart disease and stroke.

Lifestyle choices, physical activity, and diet are all very important.

Smoking is a critical risk factor. Stopping smoking lowers risk of stroke by approximately 50%. Yes, quitting is difficult, but your doctor can help you. There are excellent medical approaches that can assist in smoking cessation.

Alcohol consumption increases risk as well. The previous recommendation of a glass or two of red wine daily is now controversial; alcohol is recognized internationally as a Class 1 carcinogen, increasing the risk of several types of cancer. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption, so avoiding it all together is probably your safest choice.

Physical fitness is a proven way to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. Thirty minutes of vigorous exercise at least three times a week is the minimum recommendation. Exercise has been shown to improve mental health, memory, blood pressure, and sleep, too.

Diet is important. Two diets in particular are helpful to reduce heart disease and stroke. The Mediterranean diet includes moderate intake of fish and poultry, and less red meat. Avoiding sugar and carbohydrates, and increasing olive oil consumption are also part of the diet, which is similar to the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Since high blood pressure remains the #1 stroke risk factor, the DASH diet can be extremely helpful. The details of both diets can be found easily online.

Lastly, avoid sweetened beverages at all costs. Consumption of beverages sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners significantly increase your risk of stroke and dementia.

What about aspirin to prevent stroke? Three studies published September 2018 in the New England Journal of Medicine helped clarify the answer to this question. Although aspirin is often part of a medical regimen prescribed to prevent a second stroke or heart attack, it does not lower stroke risk in healthy adults who have never had cardiovascular disease or stroke, and results in more bleeding complications.

It’s much easier to prevent a stroke than it is to treat one. A few lifestyle changes and smart choices can increase your chances for a longer, healthier, stroke-free life.

Thomas Head, M.D., is a neurologist who sees patients at West Tennessee Neuroscience & Spine Center, located at 700 W. Forest Avenue, Suite 200 in Jackson, Tennessee. Dr. Head is also a member of the medical staff at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital.