You can learn how to prevent a stroke

DOWNEY - Attendees at the first local Primary Stroke Prevention Seminar of 2014 at the Rio Hondo Event Center learned lifesaving information about the risk factors of stroke and were provided with valuable tips to help them prevent a stroke in their own lives.

"More than 80 percent of strokes can be prevented if we simply pay attention to the warning signs and change our lifestyle to avoid stroke," said RTH Stroke Foundation President Deborah Massaglia. "This is important for all of us, because stroke continues to be the leading cause of disability and fourth leading killer of Americans."

There are many stroke risk factors you can't control. These include:

Age. Stroke can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of race, sex or age, but the older you are, the more prone you are to stroke. If you're over 55, your chances of stroke double every ten years.

Gender. In any given year, 55,000 more women than men suffer strokes. That's somewhat misleading because women live longer and have strokes at more advanced ages. At younger ages, however, when the pool of men and women are more equal, more men than women of the same age have strokes in any given year. Either way, there's nothing one can do to improve the odds based on gender alone.

Race. African Americans, Latinos and Asian/Pacific Islanders are all at greater risk for strokes than Caucasians.

Family Background. If a family member has had a stroke, your risk of having one is greater.

Prior Stroke. If you have already had a stroke, your chances of having another are many times greater than if you had not had one. You can't wipe that stroke off your record, but you can adhere to an anti-stroke lifestyle: proper diet, regular exercise, no smoking, little or no alcohol and using any medication your doctor prescribes.

Transient ischemic attacks or TIAs. These are warning or mini-strokes that produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. If you have had one or more TIAs, the likelihood that you will have a stroke is tenfold greater than that of someone of your age and gender who has not.

Heart Attack. A heart attack is a strong indicator that you may have a stroke at some time in the future. Leading an intensely heart healthy lifestyle after your attack can improve the odds.

The good news is that there are many risk factors you can control," Deborah said. "Getting some of these risk factors under control is a matter of you making up your mind to change some of your everyday routines, while others may require a form of medical intervention."

Stroke risk factors you can control include:

*High Blood Pressure or Hypertension: "This causes more strokes than anything else," Deborah said. "If we can control high blood pressure in this country, we would eliminate about 85 per cent of all strokes.

Blood pressure measures the pressure blood exerts on the walls of the arteries as it courses its way through the body. The problem with high blood pressure is that it causes your heart to work harder, which can weaken blood vessels and harm major organs. A healthy blood pressure reading is about 120/80. Readings consistently above 140/90 indicate your blood pressure is in the danger zone.

You can help keep your blood pressure in check by limiting your intake of sodium (salt), which is found in abundance in many processed foods like cold cuts, canned soup and frozen dinners, drinking alcohol in moderation or not at all, exercising regularly, and keeping your weight at a healthy level. In addition, your doctor can prescribe medications that can help lower your blood pressure.

*High Cholesterol. Every body needs cholesterol, but too much cholesterol in the bloodstream can clog arteries and lead to a stroke or heart attack. In addition to having an overall cholesterol reading of less than 200, you should have an HDL (good cholesterol) reading above 40, and an LDL (bad cholesterol) reading of less than 100.

The best defense is a diet high in grains, fruits and vegetables, and low in saturated fat. As with hypertension, your doctor can prescribe medications that can help lower your cholesterol.

*Diabetes. There are two kinds of diabetes, Type I (insulin dependent) and Type 2 (non-insulin dependent). Type 2 has been known as Adult Onset Diabetes, but the alarming rise in Type 2 among very young people, brought on largely by the obesity epidemic, is making that term obsolete. People with either type of diabetes generally have one or more other risk factors for stroke: heart disease, high cholesterol including high levels of LDL, and high blood pressure, all of which increase a person's chances of having a stroke or a heart attack.

If you are overweight - and many people with Type 2 diabetes are - a loss of as few as ten pounds can bring about a significant drop in blood glucose levels. Exercise can likewise help. A diet that qualifies as heart healthy is an excellent diet for a diabetic. While Type 1 diabetics are generally prescribed insulin, Type 2 diabetics may be prescribed oral medication or, if these are not successful, insulin.

Here are 10 ways to reduce your risk for stroke, provided by the RTH Stroke Foundation:

1.) Know your blood pressure. If it is high, work with your doctor to lower and control it.

2.) Find out from your doctor if you have atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat).

3.) If you smoke, stop.

4.) If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation

5.) Find out if you have high cholesterol. If so, work with your doctor to control it.

6.) If you are diabetic, follow your doctor's recommendations carefully to control your diabetes.

7.) Include 30 minutes of exercise in the activities you enjoy in your daily routine.

8.) Enjoy a lower sodium, lower fat diet.

9.) Ask your doctor how you can lower your personal risk of stroke.

10.) Know the warning signs of stroke. If you have any stroke symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. Symptoms include:

*Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg - especially on one side of the body.

*Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.

*Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

*Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.

*Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

"At the RTH Stroke Foundation, we fight every day to help people prevent stroke," Deborah said. "By reducing your stroke risks, you will have your best chance of living a healthy life free not only of stroke, but of heart disease, diabetes and many other deadly diseases as well."

On behalf of the team that makes possible the Primary Stroke Prevention Seminar Series in Downey, including the RTH Stroke Foundation, Keck Medicine of USC, Rancho Research Institute, Rio Hondo Event Center and The Downey Patriot, we hope you adopt the healthy behaviors outlined in this story so that you and those you love can enjoy the healthiest possible future.

********** Published: Jan. 30, 2014 - Volume 12 - Issue 42