Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that every four minutes a person dies from a stroke. A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is blocked. This often occurs when a blood clot develops or is dislodged somewhere in the body, blocking blood flow. Strokes can also occur with hardening of plaque in the arteries, such as with atherosclerosis. Blood transports oxygen, so without adequate blood supply, cells in the brain tissue die causing catastrophic side effects and in many cases death. Luckily, steps can be taken to reduce the risks of a stroke occurring.
The foods you eat can dramatically decrease your risk of stroke by helping you maintain a healthy weight, low blood pressure (see this blood pressure chart for more information) and normal cholesterol level. Aim for a diet that is rich in foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while reducing the intake of foods high cholesterol and sodium. Choose fruits and vegetables to help lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels while increasing good cholesterol. Avoid foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol, such as fatty meats and foods high in trans-fats, which can increase blood pressure and contribute to the formation of plaque in the arteries. Foods high in sodium should also be avoided should you wish to prevent a stroke as they can increase blood pressure levels.
The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week to maintain adequate health. Regular and consistent exercise reduces the risk of stroke by increasing the level of good HDL cholesterol in the blood, which in turn helps lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol. Exercise also increases heart strength, reducing your blood pressure, and helps counteract weight gain and the development of diabetes, both of which increase your risks for stroke.
Certain lifestyle choices also affect strokes. For example, smoking reduces the presence of oxygen in the bloodstream and increases the formation of blood clots. Second-hand smoke may also increase these risks. Excessive alcohol consumption also increases risks by negatively impacting your blood pressure levels. Using illegal drugs can also cause strokes, especially the abuse of stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine.
Recognize the Symptoms
Whilst knowing the symptoms of a stroke cannot prevent one from occurring; it can reduce the impact of a stroke, and may even save a life. Symptoms of a stroke include numbness in the face, legs or arms, especially when only felt on one side of the body. A stroke victim may also feel confused and have difficulty talking, walking or seeing clearly. Strokes are often accompanied by a severe headache that occurs suddenly without warning. If you experience any of these symptoms, call for emergency help immediately.
Help and Support
Should you have to deal with the aftermath of yourself or a friend or family member having a stroke there is plenty of support available to those who need it. There are various online resources such as the http://www.strokesupportgroup.org/ as well as the http://strokeassociation.org/, which provides information for those who have suffered from or are providing support to people who have had a stroke.
Michael Smith is a keen health blogger who has contributed to various blogs about health and wellbeing matters.
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