(StatePoint) The bad news is that stroke is the third leading cause of death in America. The good news is 80 percent of strokes are preventable and you can lower your risks of having one.
Stroke occurs when a blood vessel bringing blood and oxygen to the brain gets blocked or ruptures and brain cells don't get the blood flow they need.
"Knowing your risk for stroke is the first step in prevention. There are many stroke risk factors which are modifiable," says Dr. Ralph Sacco, a Fellow with the American Academy of Neurology (AAN).
"By having regular medical checkups and knowing your risk, you can focus on reducing your risk of stroke whatever your age. For those who already have had a stroke or TIA, it is even more crucial to treat elevated cholesterol with statins," he adds. In addition, it is important to control high blood pressure, quit smoking and take stroke prevention medicine prescribed by your doctor.
For years doctors have known you can reduce stroke risk through lifestyle changes, including eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, being physically active, maintaining healthy body weight, managing certain medical conditions, quitting smoking and drinking moderately or not at all.
Now comes news that people who take cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins after a stroke may be less likely to have another stroke later, according to new research published in "Neurology," the medical journal of the AAN. Those who take statins after a stroke may also be less likely to die within the next 10 years than those not taking statins.
"Considering the large burden that stroke carries around the world, these potential benefits of statins are significant," said study author Dr. Sotirios Giannopoulos of the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece. "Also, second strokes tend to result in more disability and longer times spent in hospitals than first strokes, so anything that can prevent these recurrent strokes is beneficial."
One important way to lower stroke risk is to treat pre-existing medical conditions:
High Blood Pressure: It's the leading cause of stroke. Know your blood pressure and have it checked at least once every two years. If it's consistently 140/90 or above, it is too high and you should consult your doctor about lowering it.
Smoking: Smoking damages blood vessels and increases risk stroke risk.
Diabetes: Work with your doctor to manage diabetes, which can cause disease of the brain's blood vessels.
Artery Disease: The carotid arteries in your neck supply most of the blood to your brain. A carotid artery damaged by fatty buildup of plaque may become blocked by a blood clot, causing stroke. Your doctor may image your carotid arteries to guide treatment decisions.
TIAs: Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are "mini strokes" producing stroke-like symptoms but no lasting effects. These usually last a few minutes and go away completely. Recognizing and treating them can reduce risk of major stroke because they often predict a big stroke coming. Know the warning signs and seek emergency treatment immediately. The symptoms are similar to major stroke: loss of balance; confusion; slurring of speech or droopy face; difficulty talking or understanding, weakness or numbness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side; partial or full loss of vision; sudden severe headache.
Heart Disease: Certain heart conditions prevent it from beating properly, causing blood to pool and clot.
For those at risk of stroke, knowing the signs and to call 911 immediately for stroke symptoms can be crucial.
For more about stroke prevention and brain health, visit www.thebrainmatters.org.