Taking Care of Your Brain

How can you prevent a stroke? Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and the number one cause of long-term disability. Each year, about 800,000 Americans experience a stroke and 160,000 die of stroke-related causes. 

If you have had a stroke, you have a 25-35% chance of a second stroke within 4-5 years and a 40-45% chance after 5 years. If you’ve had a TIA (often called a mini-stroke), your risk of stroke increases nearly tenfold.

Fortunately, most risk factors for stroke are within our control, but they often require lifestyle changes that can be challenging to make. Taking the time to look at your personalized risk of stroke may help you see what factors are putting you at higher risk and how you can begin making some intelligent changes to save your brain. 

Risk factors of stroke

Certain risk factors, such as age, race, and gender, are immutable and cannot be changed. Living in areas with poor healthcare and safety nets is also a factor of increased risk. 

But many factors are within our control. These include a poor diet, including processed foods and sodas, heavy drinking, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle. These lead to many health risks, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Surgery and hospital stay
  • Blood clotting diseases or conditions
  • Taking certain medications 

Calculating your risk of stroke

A number of different stroke calculators have been developed to help people assess their own personal risk of stroke. Your doctor may be able to point you to a stroke risk calculator, and there are various risk assessments online 

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) has a stroke risk calculator that is based on factors such as age, gender, blood pressure, history of diabetes, cigarette smoking, cardiovascular disease, and heart issues. A simple point system is provided so you can calculate your risk and see what factors increase your risk the most. You can access this scoring system here

A study published in 2020 in the journal Stroke found that the rate of ischemic stroke is very closely associated with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of conditions such as high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and excess body fat around the abdomen and waist. This has proven to be a very effective determiner of stroke risk. The Metabolic Syndrome Severity Calculator can be found here.

The Cleveland Clinic also has a stroke calculator, which can be accessed here

Making the tough changes

You may find it easier to make lifestyle changes if you have a “change buddy.” Do you need to quit smoking? Maybe team up with a friend who also is thinking of quitting. If you have to change your food intake, decide to make the change along with your spouse and/or kids, making it a family adventure to discover new, healthier recipes together. 

And exercising is always more fun with friends and family. A daily walk with your spouse is a great way to add exercise to your lifestyle. 

People with a high risk of stroke should be closely monitored at all times, even as they are working to decrease their risk. Neuralert’s Stroke Detection Monitor wristband looks like a smartwatch and uses a state-of-the-art patented algorithm to detect asymmetry in arm movement, one of the initial indications of stroke onset. Ask your doctor about adding Neuralert’s Stroke Detection wristbands to your health program.