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Maintain Good Health to Avoid a Stroke

How to Survive Flu Season, Even Without a Shot

This year stroke will strike 700,000 Americans of all ages, genders and ethnicities. A member of your family, a friend or neighbor – even you – could be a victim. Stroke is the No. 3 cause of death of Americans and is a leading cause of disability.

Stroke has as many faces as it has victims. African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos are at higher risk for stroke. Yet they are the least aware of stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity and tobacco use – all of which are preventable or controllable.

Statistics show that compared to whites, Hispanics ages 35 to 54 have a 1.3 times greater relative risk for stroke. African Americans in this same age group have four times the relative risk for stroke. Moreover, many faces of stroke belong to women. Each year about 100,000 women die from stroke – nearly 40,000 more than men.

But those who suffer stroke aren't the only victims. Stroke devastates entire families. Children of all ages, spouses and relatives feel the impact when stroke occurs. Thus, loved ones are among the many faces of stroke.

"Stroke can break a family apart, so you must take a positive attitude," says Neida Sandoval, anchor for Univision's network program Despierta America, which is similar to Good Morning America. Sandoval's husband suffered a stroke at age 51. "If you survive, you will have to reinvent your life and cope with changes," she says.

Risk Factors

Some risk factors that can't be controlled, such as family history, increasing age, ethnicity and having a previous TIA or "mini-stroke," put people at higher risk for stroke. Other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and physical inactivity, can be controlled, treated or modified.

If you have one or more of the risk factors below, you are at a higher risk for stroke:

  • High blood pressure (140/90 mm Hg or higher; optimal BP is less than 120/80 mm Hg)
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being physically inactive
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Carotid artery disease
  • Family history of stroke
  • Previous TIA or "mini-stroke"

Older people are at particularly high risk for stroke.

"While some risk factors can't be changed, stroke is not inevitable just because you have an uncontrollable risk factor," says Dr. Claudette Brooks, assistant professor, Department of Neurology, at West Virginia University Health Sciences Center and West Virginia University Stroke Center in Morgantown, W.V. Dr. Brooks serves as director of the WVU Neurovascular Lab and is a leading member of the WVU Stroke Center Team, Stroke Clinic and Stroke Research Clinic. "It simply means you need to pay special attention to risk factors that can be eliminated or controlled. In some instances, following a healthy diet and including regular exercise is not enough to reduce your risk of stroke, so ask your doctor about medication that will help and take it as prescribed. Remember, even if you are taking medication, a healthy diet and exercise continue to play an important role in your health."

Taking simple actions against even one risk factor can help reduce your risk of joining the faces of stroke.

  • Get your blood pressure checked. If it's 140/90 mm Hg or higher, control it.
  • Visit your doctor regularly to monitor your health.
  • If you smoke, stop!
  • Start physical activity. Try to accumulate at least 30 minutes of activity on most or all days of the week.
  • Learn the stroke warning signs.

It's never too late to take action against stroke. "Stroke doesn't have a race; it only needs a body," says Dr. Brooks.

For more information on stroke and the resources the American Stroke Association provides, call 1-888-4-STROKE or visit the American Stroke Association.

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