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5 Critical Steps to Help Prevent a Stroke

May is Stroke Awareness Month. It aims to raise awareness of stroke’s risk factors and symptoms and raise funds for stroke research.

A stroke occurs when a person’s brain receives insufficient blood. A lack of oxygen and nutrients can cause brain cell death, resulting in serious neurological problems. Strokes are the second most common cause of death worldwide. They are also the most common cause of disability. In the United States, around 800,000 strokes occur every year.

Stroke Awareness Month aims to improve the public’s understanding of the causes and symptoms of a stroke. Increased awareness may help reduce stroke numbers and improve health outcomes.

The interesting thing about strokes? The vast majority of them don’t need to happen.

Up to 80% of strokes can be prevented through healthy lifestyle changes and working with health care practitioners to control stroke risk factors. Researchers have identified numerous steps people can take to lower stroke risk, but health experts agree trying to do them all at once can feel overwhelming. Here are five ways to get started on the road to prevention.

If You Smoke, Quit. Studies show that for every five cigarettes a person smokes each day, the risk of stroke increases by 12%. For Black adults, smoking cigarettes more than doubles the risk of stroke compared to never smoking, a 2020 study found.

Move More. More active men and women have a 25%-30% lower risk of stroke than those who are least active. Physical activity has been shown to lower cholesterol, help maintain a healthy weight, and lower blood pressure – all factors that can reduce stroke risk.

Keep Blood Pressure Under Control. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is the leading cause of strokes. Half of all men – 52% – and 43% of women in the U.S. have blood pressure that is too high, according to AHA statistics. While it can be controlled through lifestyle changes or medication, only about 1 in 5 adults keep it properly managed. Smoking, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and an unhealthy diet can push blood pressure out of the healthy range. At-home monitoring and regular communication with doctors to ensure medications are working are important to keep high blood pressure in check.

Eat a Healthy Diet. Being careful in choosing healthy foods can minimize weight gain. But there’s value to making healthier food choices regardless of weight.

Start Early. Strokes happen to young people, too. About 10%-15% of all strokes occur in adults aged 50 or under. Recent research shows Black young adults have up to four times the risk as their white peers. And recent research shows the same factors that cause strokes in older adults – such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes – are causing strokes in younger adults.

There are commonly understood symptoms of strokes. Symptoms can vary, but understanding what they look like can help you or others get the necessary medical care as soon as possible. Men and women can experience the same main symptoms of stroke. However, women may be more likely to experience additional symptoms, such as confusion, general fatigue, and more.

  • Confusion
  • Difficulties with speaking or understanding speech
  • Weakness or numbness in the face, or an extremity, often on one side of the body
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Difficulties walking
  • Vision problems, which may affect one eye or both
  • Severe headache

Strokes can be life-threatening. Anyone with symptoms of a stroke should seek medical attention immediately. If someone nearby is having a stroke, someone needs to call 911.