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May 03, 2021

When Minutes Count: Know Risk Factors for Stroke

IU Health Bloomington Hospital

When Minutes Count: Know Risk Factors for Stroke

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and is a leading cause of long-term disability globally, but strokes are preventable. The American Stroke Association reports that as much as 80% of strokes can be prevented by making healthy choices, and quickly recognizing and treating a stroke can limit or lessen the deficits.

“It is important that people understand their unique risk factors for stroke so they can work to proactively reduce their overall risk for having a stroke,” said IU Health Bloomington Hospital Stroke Coordinator Sonia Pruett, MSN, AGPCN-BC, SCRN.

Many conditions contribute to the overall risk for stroke, including hypertension, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, smoking, age, gender, race, and family history. These risk factors have two groups that contribute to the overall risk for stroke: non-modifiable and modifiable.

What are non-modifiable risk factors for stroke?

Risk factors that can’t be changed are non-modifiable.

Non-modifiable risk factors include things like family history, age, race, and gender. Learn more at the American Stroke Association website.

  • Age: The risk for stroke increases with age for both males and females.
  • Family history: If you have a family member who has suffered a stroke, you may be at increased risk.
  • Race: African Americans and Hispanics have unique risks for stroke.
  • Gender: Women have more strokes than men. They are also more likely to die from a stroke than men.

What are modifiable risk factors for stroke?

“Modifiable risk factors are things we can have control of and can manage with the guidance of a primary care provider,” said Pruett. “Some risk factors can be a challenge to change, but recognizing them and working with a healthcare provider can be that extra push you need to take the next step on your road to stroke prevention.”

Modifiable risk factors include:

  • Management of medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.
  • Changing your diet can help to manage your medical conditions, reducing your risk.
  • Being more physically active helps to manage your medical conditions, reducing your risk.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Reducing alcohol intake.

Pruett said that the American Heart Association (AHA/ASA) recommends moderate to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity at least 40 minutes, three to four times per week. They also recommend a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy with reduced saturated fats. Making these changes will help reduce your blood pressure, manage diabetes and can be weight reducing. But one of the most important modifiable risk factors is smoking. “Smoking doubles the risk for a stroke, so we recommend quitting,” said Pruett.

“Know your risk for stroke and manage your risk factors,” said Pruett. “Also, be able to recognize the symptoms for stroke and teach them to your family.”

Common stroke symptoms include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking.
  • Dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Pruett suggests using the FAST acronym if it appears that someone is having a stroke:

  • Face: Have the person smile and look for facial droop.
  • Arm: Have the person hold both arms straight out and look for weakness or inability to hold up one arm.
  • Speech: Have the person speak and listen for slurred speech.
  • Time: Time to call 911.

“There are treatments available for strokes, but time is of the essence since about 2 million brain cells die with each minute the treatment isn’t started,” said Pruett. “Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department if you or someone you know is experiencing stroke symptoms.”

Find more information on strokes and treatment for strokes.

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