Physicians Offer Practical Tips on Preventing Strokes and Their Lasting Effects
May 3, 2012
It takes less than a minute for a stroke to change a person's life forever, but taking the time to make a few simple lifestyle adjustments and finding out how to recognize an attack when it happens can save thousands of lives.
"It is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of adult disabilities, but more than half of all strokes can be prevented," says Dr. Matthew Fink, chief of the Division of Stroke and Critical Care Neurology at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
These few lifestyle changes can greatly reduce anyone's chances of having a stroke:
- Reduce salt intake. High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of stroke. Cutting back on salt is one of the most significant steps to maintaining or lowering your blood pressure to a healthy level of 120/80 or below. Try flavoring your food with a variety of spices that may be healthier than salt.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. Maintaining a healthy balance between your good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL) is the best way to prevent high cholesterol, heart disease and the increased risk of stroke. Your cholesterol level should remain at 200 mg/dl or below.
- Stop smoking. Smoking is not only bad for your lungs, it is bad for your brain, too. A smoker is at twice the risk of having a stroke because smoking damages blood vessels, raises blood pressure and speeds up the clogging of arteries.
- Exercise. If you are obese or overweight, your risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes increases and so does your risk for a stroke. Extra weight places an added strain on your entire circulatory system, but aerobic exercise can be a good way to lose those extra pounds and substantially improve your health.
However, there are certain populations that are still at a higher risk of having a stroke even after making the proper lifestyle changes. These include adults 55 years of age or older, African-Americans and Hispanics, those with a family history of stroke, and people who have already had an attack or a transient ischemic attack (mini stroke). In addition, women are more likely to die from a stroke than men, although attacks are more common in men.
"When someone does have a stroke they may experience either slight or extremely noticeable physical changes. The most effective way to prevent the permanent damage associated with stroke is to recognize the signs of an attack and to seek medical attention immediately," says Dr. Randolph Marshall, director of the Stroke Division at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.
The most common signs of a stroke are:
- Weakness. A sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arms or legs — specifically on one side of the body.
- Trouble Speaking. A feeling of confusion and slurred speech or trouble speaking.
- Loss of Balance. Dizziness and trouble walking.
- Poor Eyesight. A loss of vision in one or both of the eyes.
- Headache. A sudden, severe headache that occurs for no apparent reason.
"Eighty percent of all strokes are caused by a blood clot that blocks blood flow to the brain. Today there are many new drugs and techniques that when applied during the early onset of an attack can prevent, and in some cases reverse, the damage caused by these blockages," says Dr. Philip Stieg, chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery and neurosurgeon-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Some of the most popular techniques include:
- Clot-Dissolving Drugs. Tissue Plasminogen Activator (t-PA) is a commonly used clot-dissolving drug that is injected into the artery and dissolves the clot, restoring blood flow to the brain. This procedure is most effective when used immediately following an attack.
- Revascularization. Tiny micro catheters such as the Merci Retriever and the Penumbra System are inserted into the artery and used to remove the blockages and reopen the artery.
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, based in New York City, is the nation's largest not-for-profit, non-sectarian hospital, with 2,353 beds. The Hospital has nearly 2 million inpatient and outpatient visits in a year, including more than 220,000 visits to its emergency departments — more than any other area hospital. NewYork-Presbyterian provides state-of-the-art inpatient, ambulatory and preventive care in all areas of medicine at five major centers: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Westchester Division. One of the most comprehensive health care institutions in the world, the Hospital is committed to excellence in patient care, research, education and community service. NewYork-Presbyterian is the #1 hospital in the New York metropolitan area and is consistently ranked among the best academic medical institutions in the nation, according to U.S.News & World Report. The Hospital has academic affiliations with two of the nation's leading medical colleges: Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.