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Published on August 15, 2013

Are You at Risk for Stroke?

It’s frightening to think that a stroke can occur at any moment without warning. It only seems grimmer when you consider it’s the leading cause of disability and the fourth leading cause of death in America. But instead of allowing panic to overwhelm you, you can become pro-active in lowering your chances of having a stroke. All it takes are some simple lifestyle changes.

Understanding the different types of stroke can shed some light on the best ways to prevent them. An ischemic stroke, which is the most common, occurs when the arteries going to your brain become narrowed or blocked, which significantly reduces blood flow. The other less common type, hemorrhagic stroke, occurs when there’s a leaking or bust blood vessel in your brain. In both cases, the lack of blood supply deprives your brain tissue of oxygen and essential nutrients, which causes them to die in a matter of minutes. So what can you do?

“The best way to prevent stroke or reduce the risk of having one is to treat modifiable risk factors,” said Dr. Dan Gzesh, Director of The Diamond Stroke Center at Abington - Jefferson Health.

The risk factors you should identify and manage include the following:

Medical Conditions

  • Hypertension: High blood pressure can potentially damage your arteries to the point that they can burst or clog more easily.
  • Diabetes: Those with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have a stroke. It’s vital for anyone with diabetes to manage their condition and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
  • High Cholesterol: Having high blood lipid levels are dangerous, as fatty substances and plaque build up in the bloodstream.
  • Atrial Fibrillation: Irregular and/or rapid heart rate can increase your risk of stroke by five times. Blood that pools in the heart as a result of irregular heartbeat can form clots that are then carried up to the brain, resulting in a stroke.

Lifestyle Habits

  • Smoking:  Quitting smoking is necessary, as it can further damage cells lining your blood vessels, cause clots to form, narrow blood vessels, and increase triglycerides (a certain type of fatty acid) in your blood.
  • Lack of exercise: Inactivity can make you more likely to develop medical conditions associated with stroke risk, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Be sure to schedule 30 minutes of physical fitness at least four times a week.

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