Preventing stroke

‘Brain attack’ absolute game changer

By Barbara Pierce

STROKEThe death of actor Luke Perry shocked many of us. How could a healthy looking 52-year-old suffer a massive stroke and die of it?

While it’s true that most strokes happen to people over 65, they can happen to a person of any age. The risk grows with age: The older you are, the higher your risk; your risk more than doubles each decade after 55.

“A stroke of the hand of God,” is how Dr. Timothy MacDonald of Fountain Valley, Calif. described it — so random, striking down a seemingly fit 52-year-old.

Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of serious disability for adults. About four out of 10 people die from a stroke. A significant percentage of those who do survive are left with a range of disabilities that affect speech, movement and cognition.

A stroke is a “brain attack” that occurs when the blood supply to the brain becomes blocked. During a stroke, the brain does not receive enough oxygen or nutrients, causing brain cells to die.

Strokes need to be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible to minimize brain damage. It is a medical emergency that needs immediate attention.

“Strokes are preventable,” said Angie Roche, stroke prevention coordinator at the Mohawk Valley Health Center Stroke Center.

“Eighty percent of strokes can be prevented. That’s very good news,” she said. Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented through healthy lifestyle changes and controlling any health conditions that raise your risk of having a stroke.

“Uncontrolled high blood pressure is the primary reason people have strokes,” she said. “We know that high blood pressure can be prevented. If you have high blood pressure, continue to take your medications. Don’t stop taking them just because you feel good.”

“Check your blood pressure at home, write it down and bring it with you to your doctor,” she advises. “Check it two to three times a week; that is more reflective of what your blood pressure is than the one time the doctor takes it in the office.”

BP monitoring critical

Your blood pressure readings reflect what you were doing in the 15 minutes before you took it, she explained. “Blood pressure reflects how hard your heart has to work to pump blood around your body. Your brain monitors the amount of oxygen you need for the activity you’re doing. For example, if you’re walking up the stairs, you need more blood oxygen to get up the stairs; you’re using more energy than when you’re sitting.

“When you’re in the doctor’s office and you’ve been sitting in the waiting room reading magazines, then they take your blood pressure, the result will not be as accurate a reflection of what your blood pressure is at home when you’re doing your usual routine. So take it at home, write it down, and bring it to your doctor.

“Your blood pressure changes with every beat of your heart. It changes depending on how much blood and oxygen your heart needs.”

“If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar under control,” Roche advised in regards to preventing stroke.

Exercise at least three times a week for 30 minutes and do simple things like walking. If you’re not able to walk, do sit-down exercises, like hold a can of soup in each hand and use them like weights. Even something like that is better than nothing.”

“If you’re overweight, keep your weight down,” she recommends. “Limit alcohol to the dietary guidelines: one drink a day for women, two for men. Also, reduce stress in your life as much as you can.”

See your doctor regularly, she added, especially if you have a family history of heart attacks, stroke, or heart disease.

Sometimes the only physician that a woman sees is her OB/GYN, she said. But as we age, our level of estrogen drops. Estrogen is a blood vessel protector. When you’re young, estrogen protects your blood vessels; as it drops, you lose that protection and your risk of a stroke increases.

Family issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, and strokes do put you at higher risk for having a stroke.

“Eat good food,” she stressed. “Read the labels. You know that salt increases your blood pressure. What I advise folks to do is go to supermarket, and put the stuff you would ordinarily buy in your cart. Then before you check out, read the labels. See how much sodium is in each product.”

“People tell me: ‘But I don’t add salt to my food.’ That’s good. But prepared food has a lot of salt in it. A can of soup is very salty,” Roche said. “So are things like gravy mix and hamburger helper. All of them have a lot of sodium in the form of preservatives, which contain sodium.

“It’s an eye opener to look at the labels! All that salt adds up. Be aware of what you put in your body.”