By Maria Aguero, MS, RDN, Clinical Dietitian at Neighborhood Health Center
Stroke ranks as the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States, and is a leading cause of functional impairment. Stroke is dangerous, but you can control and treat several risk factors.
Studies have shown that modifying lifestyle-related risk factors such as smoking, alcohol use, physical activity, and diet are important in stroke prevention. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a leading cause of stroke and the most significant controllable risk factor.
What happens in the body during a stroke?
A stroke occurs in the same way as a heart attack, but it occurs in the brain. If blood flow to the brain is interrupted, the brain loses its supply of oxygen and nutrients, causing damage to brain tissue known as a stroke. The most common cause of obstruction is the formation of fatty deposits on the inner walls of the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain, causing the vessels to become increasingly narrow and less flexible, and this is known as atherosclerosis. When the brain is not getting enough oxygen, the body sends out warning signs of impending danger. If you see one or more of the following “F.A.S.T.” signs of a stroke, do not wait. Call 9-1-1 immediately!
- F = Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop, or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person's smile uneven?
- A = Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- S = Speech Difficulty – trouble speaking or understanding speech. Is speech slurred?
- T = Time to call 911
*By learning the F.A.S.T. warning signs, you just might save a life*
How can stroke be prevented?
The main recommendations to consider:
- Blood pressure: A healthy eating pattern, such as the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), may be helpful for managing blood pressure
- Maintain healthy cholesterol levels
- Adequate treatment of diabetes and/or metabolic syndrome
- Avoid tobacco use
- Do moderate physical activity regularly
- Balance diet and set healthy dietary patterns
- Maintain a healthy weight
Having a risk factor for a heart attack or stroke doesn't necessarily mean you'll get it. Lifestyle modifications can help prevent stroke and help you avoid other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, and obesity.