Life after a stroke can be challenging, not to mention the added worry of having another. Each year in the U.S., an estimated one in four strokes will happen to someone who has already survived one, according to the National Stroke Foundation. You can reduce your risk of stroke by focusing on factors that you can control:
- Managing medications
- Managing other conditions
Eat a Healthy Plate
Diet is a great way to keep your body healthy and help prevent chronic disease. In addition to choosing more fruits and vegetables, lean meats, seafood, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and fiber, you should limit saturated and trans fats, sodium, alcohol, and added sugars. These choices can keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels lower, significantly reducing your risk of a second stroke.
Many stroke survivors have a limited appetite, or have trouble eating due to swallowing problems or limited arm movement. To help, you and your caregivers can create meals with stronger flavors and bold colors. Try adding salt-free herbs and spices to tempt your taste buds, and cut food into bite-sized pieces or choose softer foods that are easier to chew.
Stay Active and Quit Smoking
Stroke can limit your mobility, but even small amounts of activity can improve your overall health. Start with a low-impact activity that you enjoy. Chart your progress and take pride in each minute you’re active. Even five minutes of walking or arm circles can help your physical health — and your mental health. Exercise can also build confidence, ward off depression and anxiety, and actually give you back energy.
Smoking is a major risk factor for future strokes, since it reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood. That in turn makes the heart work harder and makes blood clots more likely to form. Cigarette smoking also contributes to high blood pressure and respiratory illness. Although quitting is hard, smokers have double the risk of stroke as nonsmokers, so know the benefits and get help from family, coworkers, and your health care providers.
Keep an Eye on Related Conditions and Risks
Several health conditions and measurements have a direct impact on whether or not you have another stroke. High blood pressure can weaken arteries gradually, so keep it under control through lifestyle changes and medication. Likewise, high cholesterol should be managed carefully, and cholesterol-lowering statins are frequently prescribed.
You should also be checked for a type of irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation, which depending on its cause and severity can be treated in several ways. Though not as common as high blood pressure and cholesterol, atrial fibrillation is strongly associated with stroke. It causes blood to pool in the heart, which can form clots that travel to the brain.
Sleep apnea is common in survivors and associated with a much higher risk of another attack. Sleep apnea causes your airway to be blocked, which leads to lower blood oxygen, a faster heart rate, and higher blood pressure. Type 2 Diabetes, when not well controlled, can lead to serious cardiovascular problems, including stroke.
Manage Your Medications
Your doctors, pharmacists, and other providers have probably given you a laundry list of prescriptions along with when and how to take them. When added to all the other advice you’ve been given, this can be overwhelming, frustrating, and even insulting. Unfortunately, not taking medications as instructed — or noncompliance as it’s called by health care providers — puts you at much greater risk of a recurrent stroke.
One cause of noncompliance with doctor’s orders is denial. It’s human nature to hope that by ignoring something, it goes away, and not taking medications can push away reality. While skipping one dose or one day’s worth of a medicine may not make you feel any differently, the long-term effects can be dangerous. If you aren’t sure about your dosage, or are frustrated by not seeing results, talk to your doctor before making changes on your own.
To learn more about strokes and the latest findings on their affects, contact the UPMC Stroke Institute to schedule an appointment or ask a question at 412-232-8840.