Having a stroke can be a debilitating and life changing event for an individual and their family. Regardless of one’s age or family history, 90 percent of strokes are preventable. Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain and is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., killing nearly 130,000 people a year.
“There are many things that you can do to modify your risks,” said Dr. Thielman. “The effects of a stroke are so varied and can have great ramifications on a patient and their family that prevention is paramount.”
Stroke prevention tips:
– Get moving: Being inactive, obese, or both can increase high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Getting out and active for a total of 30 minutes of exercise a day can reduce the risks. In patients who have already experienced an episode, active circuit training may reduce the chance of another stroke, according to ongoing research conducted at USciences by Dr. Thielman.
– Be aware of Afib: Atrial Fibrulation (Afib) is an irregular or “racing” heartbeat that can cause blood to collect, thus forming a clot, which can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Afib increases the risk of stroke by 500 percent, but nearly all Afib-related strokes are preventable. Check if you have Afib by doing a monthly pulse test. Checking each month will help you identify irregularities:
Step 1: Turn your left hand so your palm is facing up. Place the first two fingers of your right hand on the outer edge of your left wrist just below where you wrist and thumb meet
Step 2: Slide your fingers toward the center of your wrist and press your fingers down onto your wrist until you feel your pulse. Be careful not to press too hard. Your pulse should be easy to feel.
Step 3: Pay attention to the rhythm of your pulse for 60 seconds. Don’t count the beats. A regular pulse will feel even and consistent. An irregular pulse, a sign of Afib, will be erratic and unpredictable.
Afib is treatable with anti-coagulation treatments or blood thinners or other non-prescription treatments, such as electrical stimulation (cardioversion) to restore a regular heart rhythm.
– An apple a day: Eating a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol is important to heart and brain health. A diet that includes five or more servings of fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of stroke.
-Quit smoking: Nicotine and carbon monoxide found in cigarettes produces several effects that damage the cerebrovascular system and can cause stroke. The risk of stroke is increased in women who smoke in combination with using oral contraceptives.
It is also important to know the signs of a stroke, said Dr. Thielman. The acronym FAST is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke: Face drooping; arm weakness; speech difficulty; time to call 9-1-1.
“Taking the time to be aware of the risk factors is worth it in the long run for both you and your family,” he said.
Dr. Greg Thielman is associate professor of physical therapy and director of the Patricia Leahy Research Lab at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.