Don't let stroke strike - get a handle on your health risks

Before you disqualify yourself from the risk pool as too young or too healthy for stroke, consider this: someone has a stroke in this country every 40 seconds, and nearly a quarter of those who suffer a stroke are younger than 65. A recent study by the American Heart Association reported a rise in stroke among men and women in their 30s and 40s - perhaps due to unhealthy lifestyle choices that lead to conditions such as high blood pressure and being overweight.

Stroke risk increases with age, but it also increases with a host of health challenges - most of which are manageable or preventable. More than a third of adults living in the United States have two or more of the risk factors for stroke, which include smoking, being obese or having high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

Though everyone carries some risk no matter how healthy you are, stroke is a largely preventable event. May is National Stroke Awareness Month - a fine time to take charge of your health. If you face any of the following health challenges that can increase stroke risk, take action to manage or change them.

High blood pressure: When your blood pressure is too high, your heart pumps harder than it should to move your blood through your body. If untreated, high blood pressure can lead to stroke. A low-salt diet, exercise and medication all can help regulate your blood pressure; work with your health care provider on what is right for you.

High cholesterol: This unhealthy build-up of plaque in your arteries can impede normal blood flow to your brain, causing stroke. High cholesterol also puts you at increased risk for heart disease. Diet and exercise, as well as medication, can help balance your cholesterol levels.

Diabetes: If you have diabetes, you are nearly four times as likely to suffer stroke as those who do not have diabetes. Many people who have diabetes also have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. And for people with diabetes, brain damage from stroke may be more severe if your blood sugar levels are elevated at the time of stroke. Type I diabetes can be controlled with insulin, and you can largely mitigate the symptoms of Type II diabetes with diet and exercise.

Smoking: Smoking doubles your risk for stroke. Your blood is less oxygenated, your heart has to work harder to pump your blood and the risk for blood clot is greater. Smoking also causes clogging of your arteries, which can restrict blood flow to the brain and induce stroke. We know it's not easy to quit, but quitting is your best chance at reducing your risk. Let us help you quit.

Obesity: If you're overweight, you're putting undue strain on your circulatory system, and you're also at greater risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Bumping up your physical activity and striving for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains can help you manage your weight and reduce your risk for stroke.

To learn more about the signs of stroke - and what to do if you think you or someone else is experiencing stroke - visit www.providenceFAST.org. If you need support managing any of the conditions mentioned above, we can help. Providence Care Management pairs you with a registered nurse who can help you better manage your condition and improve your overall health.