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Lifestyle changes can prevent stroke

May 20, 2021 | UCI Health
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The biggest risk factor for stroke is hypertension, and salt intake is the leading cause. Asian and Latino populations are at higher risk for high blood pressure because of the amount of salt in their diet. Controlling high blood pressure can reduce the risk of stroke by up to 50%, says UCI Health stroke specialist Dr. Wengui Yu.

Strokes, like many diseases and health conditions, can be avoided with changes in lifestyle and nutrition.

“Most strokes are preventable, but it’s imperative to address your risk factors and get them under control,” says Dr. Wengui Yu, director of the UCI Health Comprehensive Stroke and Cerebrovascular Center.

Stroke is cerebrovascular accident that kills brain cells within hours if not treated quickly. A stroke can lead to physical impairment, pain and numbness, as well as problems with thinking, remembering or speaking. A stroke also may trigger depression or other emotional difficulties. 

There are two types:

  • An acute ischemic stroke occurs from a blood clot or atherosclerotic artery blockage in the brain or neck. (87% of strokes)
  • A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures caused by an aneurysm or arteriovenous malformation (AVM) — a cluster of abnormal blood vessels. (13% of strokes)

Changes that reduce your risk

In fact, Yu says, up to 90% of first strokes can be prevented by adopting these lifestyle modifications:

  • Reduce the salt in your diet. Salt is a leading cause of high blood pressure, which is the biggest risk factor of stroke. Asian and Latino populations are at higher risk because of the amount of salt in their foods. Controlling hypertension can reduce risk of stroke by up to 50%.
  • Eat four to five cups of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Have a serving of fish two or three times a week.
  • Eat no more than 2,000 calories a day if your body mass index (BMI) is more than 25.
  • Exercise at a moderate intensity (e.g., walking fast until you sweat and breath hard) for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Health experts recommend drinking at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking triples or quadruples a person's risk for stroke. Even passive exposure to smoking increases risk.
  • Reduce alcohol intake. No more than one glass of alcohol a day is recommended.

These medical therapies and lifestyle changes may also significantly reduce a person’s risk of a second or subsequent stroke, say Yu, a professor of neurology at the UCI School of Medicine. “After a first stroke, it’s essential to follow-up with a board-certified stroke expert to discuss strategies for secondary stroke prevention.”

These may include aggressive control of high blood pressure, treatment of an unruptured aneurysm as well as management of other risk factors, including high cholesterol, diabetes and atrial fibrillation.

Watch for 'Be fast' signs

Above all, people need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of stroke so they can get help quickly. The FAST acronym was very successful in identifying the most common types of stroke, which occur in the front part of the brain. The back part of the brain, though, is responsible for balance and eyesight, and those strokes were being missed in the acronym.

The new acronym — BE FAST, for balance, eyes, face, arm, speech and time — will help us recognize strokes occurring in that part of the brain, too.

Call 9-1-1 immediately, if you or a family member experience any of the following BE FAST symptoms:

  • Balance. Does the person have a sudden loss of balance or dizziness?
  • Eyes. Has the person lost vision in one or both eyes? Is their vision blurry?
  • Face drooping. Does the person’s face look uneven? Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is it uneven or lopsided?
  • Arm weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech. Is the person’s speech slurred? Do they have trouble speaking or seem confused?
  • Time. Call 9-1-1 if the person shows any of these signs, even if the symptoms go away. Get the person to a hospital immediately.

Also be on the lookout for a sudden onset of a headache that many patients often describe as the “worst headache of my life.” This is frequently the key symptom of hemorrhagic stroke. Call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not take aspirin or ibuprofen, which may worsen the hemorrhage.

“Too many people choose to wait and see if the symptoms go away by themselves,” Yu says. “Delayed treatment is often associated with poor recovery and significant disability.”

Where you get help matters

Leading-edge care makes a significant difference in better outcomes after a stroke and in preventing a stroke.

The UCI Health Comprehensive Stroke and Cerebrovascular Center offers the collaborative and expert care of stroke neurologists, neurointerventionalists, neurosurgeons and neurointensivists who can address acute therapies for both types of stroke.

As Orange County’s first Joint Commission-certified comprehensive stroke center, it sets high standards for providing rapid, quality treatment for patients with acute stroke and complex cerebrovascular diseases, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

 

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