How can I prevent a stroke?

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. This can last from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. Even if the brain is deprived of oxygen-carrying blood for a minute or two, brain cells can die, damaging the brain. Given the risks of stroke, preventing stroke is a highly desirable goal.

It should be noted that people cannot always prevent a stroke. Some necessary surgeries can create the risk of stroke, especially for people with congenital heart defects. In these cases, the benefits of surgery outweigh the risk of stroke.

For most people, stroke prevention should start in childhood, but if it doesn't, any effort to prevent a stroke in adulthood can also lower the chance of having one. For example, children can start to prevent a stroke from happening by eating healthy diets and getting plenty of exercise. Diets should be low in saturated fat, especially for children over the age of five, since one of the main causes of stroke is the buildup of plaque in the arteries. Plaque buildup can break off and form a blockage of blood to the brain.

As we age, we may pick up some habits that are less likely to help us prevent a stroke. Smoking, for example, greatly increases our chances of having a stroke. Poor diet and lack of exercise can make it harder to prevent a stroke. They can lead to conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, which are risk factors that contribute to strokes.

Although hormone-based oral contraceptives are in common use, they can increase the risk of stroke. This risk increases as we age. Smoking and using hormonal birth control, especially after the age of 35, can greatly increase the chance of having a sudden stroke.

Overweight people are often at increased risk of stroke. People carrying extra pounds should try to modify their diet and get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day. Even if you don't lose much weight, a healthier diet and daily exercise can help prevent a stroke.

The main ways to prevent a stroke are as follows:

  • Do not smoke
  • If you are diabetic, monitor glucose levels carefully.
  • Eat a diet low in saturated fat.
  • Exercise 30 minutes a day.
  • Do not use hormonal birth control (the pill, the patch, the shots).
  • Use alcohol in moderation and avoid excessive drinking.
  • Get yearly checkups to control your blood pressure levels.
  • Try to lose weight if you are overweight through a healthy diet and exercise.
  • Keep blood cholesterol levels low.

    Sometimes people have a family history that works against them in trying to prevent a stroke. A person who eats a healthy diet may still struggle with high cholesterol, diabetes, abnormal heart rhythms, or high blood pressure. Knowing your family history can help you prevent stroke, because there are medications to treat these conditions. Most importantly, if your family's medical history contains risk factors for stroke, stay under a doctor's care regularly to monitor these risk factors and check them with medications as needed.

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