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Strokes kill more than 150,000 Americans each year and leave many more disabled. They happen when the brain doesn't get enough blood, either because an artery burst or a clot has blocked the blood flow.
Some risk factors, such as getting older and being male, can't be changed. But a study in The Lancet found 10 that can — and together, they account for 90 percent of stroke risk.
Top 10 Controllable Risk Factors for Stroke
1. High blood pressure. Stroke risk is four to six times higher in those with hypertension. One in three adults has high blood pressure. Get yours checked regularly.
2. Diabetes. High blood sugar damages blood vessels in the brain. People with diabetes have triple the stroke risk of those without the disease. Work with your doctor to manage your blood glucose.
3. Heart disease. A misshapen heart or irregular heartbeat could contribute to stroke. If you suffer from heart disease, your doctor might recommend surgery or medication to treat your condition.
4. Abnormal cholesterol. High levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol and low levels of HDL or "good" cholesterol clog arteries. Have yours checked at least once every five years.
5. Waist-to-hip ratio. Being heavy contributes to all four of the previous risk factors. To maintain a healthy weight, balance the number of calories you eat with your physical activity level.
6. Unhealthy diet. Study participants who ate a Mediterranean diet — rich in fish and fruits —had the lowest stroke risk. Load up on fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins. Find healthy recipes to ensure your diet is full of nutritious foods.
7. Not exercising. Working out keeps your blood flowing and your heart strong. Aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Even 10 minutes offers health benefits.
8. Smoking. All forms of tobacco can cause blockages in the artery leading to the brain. Nicotine also raises blood pressure and thickens the blood. Kick the habit and your stroke risk drops immediately.
9. Drinking alcohol. Binge drinking thins blood, increasing bleeding risk. Limit alcohol to one drink per day for women or two for men.
10. Stress. Constant psychological pressure may damage artery walls. To calm down, try positive self-talk. Don't think, "I can't do this." Tell yourself, "I'll do the best I can."
For More Information
To learn more about Sharp's stroke and neurology services or to find a Sharp-affiliated doctor, search for a San Diego neurologist or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm. To find general information about neurology, visit Neurology and Stroke in Adult Health or read the Neurology News archive.