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Know the risks and signs of stroke
Health advice
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People can suffer strokes regardless of locale, finances and occupation. The often-devastating affects of a stroke can significantly impact the lives of the victim and his or her family members, which make the ability to recognize risk factors essential. Although some elements, such as age, heredity, race, sex, a previous stroke or heart attack and transient ischemic attacks, cannot be changed, you can protect yourself and your loved ones by paying attention to the factors that are within your control.
These include:
•    High blood pressure: Hypertension is the most significant known risk factor for stroke.
•    Cigarettes: Smoking acts synergistically with other risk factors, substantially increasing the risk of a stroke. Nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke are damaging to the cardiovascular system, and the use of oral contraceptives combined with smoking also has been know to increase a woman’s stroke risk.
•    Diabetes: Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and are overweight, which increases a person’s chances of suffering a stroke. While diabetes is treatable, the presence of the disease still raises ones risk of stroke.
•    Carotid or other artery disease: The carotid arteries supply blood to your brain. A carotid artery narrowed by fatty deposits from atherosclerosis (plaque buildups in artery walls) may become blocked by a blood clot.
•    Peripheral artery disease: The narrowing of blood vessels carrying blood to leg and arm muscles is caused by the buildup of plaque in artery walls. People with peripheral artery disease have a higher risk of carotid artery disease, which raises the risk of stroke.
•    Atrial fibrillation: This causes the heart's upper chambers to quiver instead of beating effectively, which can allow blood to pool and clot. If a clot breaks off, enters the bloodstream and lodges in an artery leading to the brain, a stroke results.
•    Other heart disease: An enlarged heart, heart valve disease and some types of congenital heart defects raise the risk.
•    Sickle cell anemia: “Sickled” red blood cells are less able to carry oxygen to the body's tissues and organs. These cells stick to blood vessel walls, which can block arteries to the brain and cause a stroke.
•    High blood cholesterol: People with high LDL cholesterol have an increased risk for stroke; low HDL cholesterol is a risk factor for stroke in men, but more data are needed to verify its effect in women.
•    Poor diet: A diet high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can raise cholesterol levels. Sodium can contribute to increased blood pressure and excess calories can lead to obesity.
•    Physical inactivity: Lack of exercise and obesity can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Adopting healthy lifestyle habits is an effective first step in preventing and controlling high blood pressure and the other major risk factors for stroke. Healthy lifestyle changes include:
•    Losing weight if overweight
•    Increase activity. Exercise for 30 minutes on most or all days.  
•    Follow a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy. Choose and prepare foods with less salt.
•    Drink alcohol in moderation
•    Stop smoking
•    Reduce stress
•    Limit beverages with caffeine as it can cause temporary blood pressure spikes.
Stroke symptoms:
If you or a companion has one or more of these signs, immediately call 911. Check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared. If administered within three hours of the onset of symptoms, a clot-busting drug can reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke.
•    Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
•    Confusion or trouble speaking or understanding
•    Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
•    Difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
•    Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
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