Risk factors for stroke
Stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is inhibited. A number of preventable factors have been found to be associated with an increased risk of the condition.
What is a stroke?
Another name for a stroke is cerebral infarction. It's like a heart attack except in the brain. The blood vessels that bring blood to the brain get restricted - either due to atherosclerosis or damage that causes hemorrhaging. Aneurysms, trauma, and even congenital anomalies can result in the blood flow to the brain being cut off.
According to the MayoClinic, most strokes are ischemic strokes, which is what it's called when the blood flow is simply stopped. The other one-tenth of strokes are hemorrhagic, caused by a break in the vessel.
A mini-stroke occurs when the blood flow is interrupted for a very short time and then re-starts on its own. This is referred to as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), with symptoms only occurring for an hour or two and then the person feeling normal again. TIA is considered a harbinger of a future full stroke unless preventative steps are taken.
Have you experienced a stroke?
Controllable risk factors
Lifestyle and dietary changes can prevent up to 80 percent of strokes!
According to the National Stroke Association, the main contributing factors to stroke are:
- High blood cholesterol levels
- Hypertension (can be controlled with medication and dietary changes)
- Being overweight
- Diabetes (can be controlled with medication and dietary changes)
- Physical inactivity
- Alcohol use
- Circulation problems and atrial fibrillation (can be controlled with medical oversight)
Uncontrollable risk factors
- Being over 55 years of age
- Being male
- Being non-Caucasian
- Having a family history of stroke and/or heart disease
- Being born with patent foramen ovale (hole in the heart)
- Having fibromuscular dysplasia
Dietary modification, along with exercise, is one of the easiest ways to reduce the risk of stroke. Antioxidants are important components of the human diet and include:
- Beta-carotene and its metabolite Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- the mineral Selenium
Foods that include antioxidants are:
- Fruits (including citrus and watermelon)
- Green leafy veggies
- Fortified foodstuffs
What you can do to decrease your risk
- Stop smoking
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all
- Manage heart disease, including diabetes and hypertension
- Lower your total cholesterol levels to less than 200 mg/dL
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet including essential vitamins and antioxidants
- Exercise and maintain a healthy weight
Antioxidant intake via food reduces stroke risk
Studies have found that antioxidants, when included in foods we eat, can reduce the risk of stroke.
Cacao intake has been associated with stroke prevention
Dark chocolate, which is high in cocoa solids and low in milk fats, has been associated with a reduced risk of stroke, though the necessary intake may be higher than moderation would presume.
The National Stroke Association prevention guidelines
Eating a diet low in cholesterol and sodium, controlling other heart disease risk factors such as hypertension, limiting alcohol intake and stopping smoking can all benefit your stroke risk.
Centers for Disease Control stroke prevention guidelines
The CDC recommends maintaining a healthy weight, eating a generally healthy diet, and controlling other heart disease modifiers to reduce the risk of a stroke.
Signs of stroke
Some risk factors simply aren't controllable, so knowing the signs of a stroke is the best chance for reducing the risk of complications by seeking immediate medical care.The symptoms of a stroke come on suddenly and include:
- Numbness or weakness in the face or limbs, especially if it's only on one side
- Confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech
- Vision problems
- Dizziness or loss of balance and/or coordination
- Severe headache
Women sometimes have unique symptoms that can include nausea, face pain, chest pain, trouble breathing, hiccups, and palpitations. Which symptoms occur depends on which blood vessel is affected, but all come on suddenly.