Lives Made Better | Summer 2011

10 Ways to Slash
Stroke Risk

by James Ryan, D.O.

About the Doctor

James Ryan, D.O.,is a family practice physician in Ludington and a member of the Memorial Medical Center medical staff. Dr. Ryan received his medical degree from the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. He is board certified by the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians. He previously wrote for Lives Made Better on integrative medicine.

Strokes kill more than 150,000 Americans every year and leave many more disabled. They happen when the brain doesn’t get enough blood, because either an artery burst or a clot blocked the blood flow. Some risk factors, such as getting older and being male, can’t be changed. But a new study in The Lancet found 10 that can—and together, they account for 90 percent of stroke risk. Discuss with your doctor specific steps you can take to reduce your risk for stroke. In our area, the Win with Wellness program discussed in the next article is a good way to begin.

Here are the factors you can change:

1. High blood pressure. Stroke risk is four to six times higher in those with hypertension. One in three adults has high blood pressure. Get yours checked regularly.

2. Diabetes. High blood sugar damages blood vessels in the brain. People with diabetes have triple the stroke risk of those without the disease. Work with your doctor to manage your blood glucose. 3. Heart disease. A misshapen heart or irregular heartbeat could contribute to stroke. To treat your condition, your doctor might recommend surgery or medication.

4. Abnormal cholesterol. High levels of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol and low levels of HDL, or “good,” cholesterol clog arteries. Have yours checked at least once every five years. Changes to diet, exercise, and medication can help.

5. Waist-to-hip ratio. Being heavy contributes to all four of the previous risk factors. To maintain a healthy weight, begin now to balance the number of calories you eat with your physical activity level.

6. Unhealthy diet. Study participants who ate a Mediterranean diet—rich in fish and fruits—had the lowest stroke risk. Load up on fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins.

7. Not exercising. Working out keeps your blood flowing and your heart strong. Aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Start with moderate exercise and gradually increase your workouts. Even 10 minutes offers health benefits.

8. Smoking. All forms of tobacco can cause blockages in the artery leading to the brain. Nicotine raises blood pressure and thickens the blood. Kick the habit and your stroke risk drops immediately.

9. Drinking alcohol. Excessive drinking thins blood, increasing bleeding risk. Limit alcohol to no more than one to two drinks per day.

10. Stress. Constant psychological pressure may damage artery walls. To calm down, try positive self-talk. Don’t think, “I can’t do this.” Tell yourself, “I’ll do the best I can.”