Consumer Reports Insights: Strokes are common, but you can help prevent them

(Washington Post) — About every 40 seconds, someone in the United States suffers a stroke, and more than 77 percent are first events. Although deaths due to strokes have declined, a stroke — caused by the sudden loss of blood flow to the brain or by bleeding in or around the brain, either of which can cause brain cells to die — can still have a staggering impact upon lives. New guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association offer updated advice for preventing a first stroke.

Medical changes

Lower your blood pressure

High blood pressure damages arteries so they clog or burst more easily, escalating the risks of both types of stroke: ischemic, caused by blockage of a blood vessel that supplies part of the brain; and hemorrhagic, the less common but deadlier stroke that occurs when a blood vessel bursts inside the brain. Treatment to lower blood pressure, including lifestyle changes and medication, can reduce those risks by a third.

l Recommendations: Have your blood pressure checked at least once every two years, more often if you’re 50 or older. If your reading is high-normal — above 120/80 mmHg but below 140/90, the cutoff for hypertension — try to lower it by adopting the lifestyle measures listed below. If your reading is 140/90 or higher, talk with your doctor about adding an antihypertensive drug.

cholesterol levels

LDL (bad) cholesterol, a fatty substance in the blood, builds up plaque on artery walls, causing arteries to narrow. If plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form and block a blood vessel to the brain, causing a stroke.

l Recommendations: Get a fasting lipid profile every five years, and talk with your doctor about your cardiovascular risk based on family history, blood pressure readings and other factors.


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