Diabetes. High blood glucose raises the risk of stroke. Having a plan to lower your blood glucose is therefore as important for stroke prevention as it is for preventing other long-term diabetes complications.
Unhealthy cholesterol. People who have high total or LDL (“bad”) cholesterol can lower it through healthy eating habits, exercise, and medication, if necessary. It is possible to lower cholesterol to levels recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by consuming a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet comprised primarily of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, with fish, lean meat, and low-fat dairy products as additional sources of protein. A cholesterol-lowering diet should also limit the intake of sugars, desserts, soda, and alcohol.
The American Diabetes Association recommends maintaining an LDL cholesterol level below 100 mg/dl for most people with diabetes and below 70 mg/dl for those who have heart disease. It also recommends that women aim for an HDL of 50 mg/dl or higher and that men keep their HDL at 40 mg/dl or higher.
Obesity. Obesity, defined as having a body-mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater, raises the risk of heart disease and stroke. Losing even a modest amount of weight can lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.
While losing weight and keeping it off is difficult, following the healthy dietary pattern recommended for reversing heart disease and engaging in regular physical activity can be effective at promoting and sustaining weight loss, as long as the lifestyle is maintained.
Inactivity. Sedentary living tends to lead to high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and weight gain. Regular aerobic activity — such as walking, jogging, swimming, or bicycling — can lower blood pressure, raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and improve the overall health of the heart and blood vessels.
Smoking. People who smoke are at double the risk of having a stroke as nonsmokers. Smoking irritates the lining of the blood vessels and decreases the body’s ability to dissolve blood clots. Light-to-moderate smokers who quit smoking will decrease their risk of stroke to that of a nonsmoker in about five years. For heavy smokers, it may take as many as 10 years or more to lower their risk to that of a nonsmoker.
Alcohol. Drinking more than two drinks a day for men and one for women may contribute to the risk of stroke.
If a stroke occurs
If you or someone else experiences symptoms of stroke, it’s important to get medical help immediately. In most places, the fastest way to do this is to call 9-1-1. The faster you get help, the more brain function you may be able to preserve. (See “Immediate Action Needed” for more information on stroke symptoms.)
After you call 9-1-1, write down the time that you (or the other person) first began to experience symptoms so you don’t forget. The emergency room staff will ask when the symptoms began to help them decide how to treat the stroke.
While you wait for the ambulance, the person with stroke symptoms should lie down. If he is conscious, those assisting him should try to reassure him and should not give him anything to eat or drink. If the person is unconscious, those assisting him should check for breathing and, if necessary, tilt his head back to open his airway and perform CPR. A person who is breathing but unconscious should be rolled onto his side to help keep his airway open.