THE BLOG

Stroke Risk: How to Protect Yourself From a Stroke at Any Age

12/13/2010 07:59 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I know plenty of individuals whose dietary habits are intended to enhance outer beauty. The goal for these people is to stay within a specific calorie range to achieve this, and while I don't fault watching calories, I do take issue with the quality of the calorie.

As I've mentioned in prior blogs, a 200-calorie cookie will provide different disease prevention effects than 200 calories worth of spinach. The latest Twinkie diet is a great example of this. The diet was successful short term because it led to weight loss as well as a reduction in several health risks; however, it's hard to assess what long-term consequences may occur due to a diet full of sugar and artery clogging fat.

Anyone going on the Twinkie diet, therefore, can perhaps expect to lose weight and improve the way they look in their jeans, but the internal image may not reflect the same success. In fact, the internal image may get pretty ugly and over time, the risk of developing a chronic disease may increase.

I tell my clients and Lifestyle 180 participants that the goal of any healthy eating plan should be to make your inside healthier and if you happen to look better due to the new lifestyle, that's just icing on the cake. Although research shows that losing just 10 pounds may equate to substantial benefits such as decreasing cholesterol, blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, there are still plenty of thin people walking around with preventable diseases. One example where diet can have a huge effect is in the prevention of stroke.

In the time it took you to get a cup of coffee and sit down at your computer, someone had a stroke. According to the American Heart Association, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds and is the third leading cause of death in America. Stroke can be devastating and debilitating and it can change the life you knew in an instant.

Although stroke is rare in young adults, it can happen, and for persons of any age, knowing ways to prevent it could make all the difference in the world. Many factors are associated with the overall risk of stroke, but it's important to first differentiate between the things you can't change about your own personal risk and the things you can. According to Cleveland Clinic, non-modifiable risks include:

• Age (>65)
• Gender (Men have more strokes, women have deadlier strokes)
• Race (African-Americans are at increased risk)
• Family History of Stroke

About 50 percent of strokes are preventable and fortunately, the list of things you can do to decrease your chances of having a stroke is much longer. It includes:

• Blood pressure (High = greater than 140/90 mm/Hg)
• Atrial fibrillation
• Uncontrolled diabetes
• High total cholesterol ( ³ 200 mg/dL)
• Smoking
• Alcohol (more than one drink per day)
• Being overweight
• Existing carotid and/or coronary artery disease

A 2004 study found that women who had higher intakes of sugar, red processed meats and refined grains had higher incidence of stroke than women who consumed whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Further, study results presented at the 2010 international stroke conference indicated that post-menopausal women who consumed high amounts of Trans fat had an increased risk for ischemic stroke. Simply put, adding more fruits, vegetables and fiber to your diet and consuming less red meat, refined grains and saturated and Trans fat will go a long way towards the prevention of stroke.

Are you a coach potato? If so, your chances of stroke are much higher.
Sedentary behavior has been linked to increase risk of obesity, heart attack, certain cancers, and stroke. If you are a stroke survivor, getting any sort of physical activity can help in the prevention of having another event. Further, a study published in the journal Neurology found that individuals who were physically active before suffering a stroke had less severe problems as a result and recovered better compared to those who did not exercise before having a stroke.

Do you smoke or have you ever smoked? If the answer is yes, your stroke risk just went up. One study found that the risk of stroke in smokers increased with both the number of years smoked and the amount of cigarettes smoked daily. The study looked at total number of cigarettes smoked both currently and in the past. This means that even if you quit smoking 10 years ago, your risk may still be increased.

If you experience any of the warning signs of stroke, it's important to get medical care immediately. Warning signs include:
• Sudden weakness or numbness that occurs in the face, arm or leg, particularly on one side of the body
• Sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
• Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or difficulty understanding - may have slurred speech or confused speech
• Sudden problems with walking, dizziness; a loss of balance or coordination
• Sudden, severe headache, the cause of which is unknown
• Difficulty swallowing

(Cleveland Clinic, 2010)

Remember that your mirror won't always tell the whole story of your health as a whole. Having a more detailed discussion with your physician about your personal risk of stroke is the first step. He or she can explain in detail the differences between ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke risk factors and may assist you in the best ways to make behavior change more successful.

To asses your risk of stroke today, or for more information, visit the Cleveland Clinic Stroke Risk Calculator