It's clear that strokes are a major cause of disability and death
throughout the world. But many of the prime risk factors for stroke
are within your power to change -- something we have long known.
large international study published in
The Lancet Medical Journal underscored how
far prevention efforts could go. Collecting data from stroke
patients and healthy individuals in 22 countries, it found that 10
largely modifiable risk factors account for 90 percent of the risk
of stroke worldwide. That means there is much you can do to rein in
your personal risk.
1. High blood pressure
This is the
biggest contributor to strokes worldwide. The Lancet study estimated
that blood pressure readings of 160/90 mm Hg or higher accounted for
up to 52 percent of the "population-attributable risk" of stroke.
2. Sedentary lifestyle
regular exercise is a good move for your cardiovascular health, as
it helps lower blood pressure, regulate your weight, boost "good"
high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and prevent or manage
type 2 diabetes. And there's evidence that even moderate levels of
physical activity can curb your risk of stroke.
We often talk
about excess pounds being a risk to your cardiovascular health, but
it's that middle-aged spread around the waist that may be
If you are still a smoker,
you need to work on quitting. In the Lancet study, there was no
evidence that former smokers were at greater risk of stroke than
people who'd never smoked -- suggesting that the excess risk
declines quickly after you quit.
Diet may be just as important
as smoking habits. In particular, the Lancet study found, features
of the traditional Mediterranean diet -- namely, a high intake of
fish and fruit -- appeared protective against stroke.
6. Atrial fibrillation
This is the
most common form of heart-rhythm disturbance, in which the upper
chambers of the heart (atria) do not contract in a rhythmic pattern
but instead quiver chaotically. If you have atrial fibrillation, it
is critical that you take any anti-clotting medication or other
drugs that your doctor has prescribed.
Studies suggest that
the relationship between cholesterol and stroke risk is complex. In
the Lancet study, total cholesterol levels were not associated with
strokes, confirming epidemiological evidence, but higher levels of
high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good") cholesterol were linked to
a lower risk of ischemic stroke.
Moderate drinking of
alcohol was linked to a reduced risk of ischemic stroke, while any
amount more than that was connected to an increased risk versus teetotaling.
Chronic stress (related to home or work life)
was linked to an increased risk of stroke. It's not
completely clear why. It is unclear whether stress-management classes can help lower your stroke risk.
Depression symptoms was linked to an
increased risk of stroke. It's not completely clear why; it could be
because mental-health woes make it more difficult to stick to your
healthy diet, exercise and medication regimen. Also unclear is
whether depression therapy classes can help lower your stroke risk.