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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Preventing Strokes -- lowering your blood pressure

High blood pressure is the leading risk factor for stroke. It increases your risk for hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke and for ischemic (blockage) stroke. It damages arteries throughout the body....

Over time, it can create weak places that rupture easily, or thin spots that balloon out from the artery wall. It can make the arteries stiffer, and less able to move blood well. It can accelerate the build-up of fatty plaques, causing narrowing of the arteries. This is why it is important to maintain a healthy blood pressure, day after day after day.

In the short term, sudden spikes in blood pressure can cause problems, too, especially when stroke risk factors are high.
  • When blood vessels are already weakened, high blood pressure can cause them to bleed
  • If you have unstable plaques on your artery walls, high blood pressure can dislodge them, and the particles can block a narrow place in a blood vessel
This is why it is a good idea to maintain healthy habits every day.

The good news is that high blood pressure can be controlled through diet and exercise, and with the help of blood pressure medications.

A plan for lowering blood pressure would include:
  • Becoming more Active
  • Getting enough Vitamin D from diet and, especially, from sunlight. Just 10 minutes of direct sun a day could be enough.
  • Maintaining a Healthy Weight through diet and exercise
  • Reducing salt in your diet, by reducing processed and canned foods, and choosing lower-salt versions of foods like tomatoes and beans
  • Getting more Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium in your diet, by eating fresh fruits and vegetables, lowfat and nonfat dairy products, and beans, seeds, nuts, halibut, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, watermelon, and leafy green vegetables
  • Manage stress.
More reading

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Preventing a Stroke

If you've just had a mini-stroke, you have a 40% risk of having a big stroke eventually, and about a 10% chance of having that "big one" in the next three months.
You can't bring that risk down to 0 immediately, but you can dial it back considerably. Your doctor will probably recommend a lot of tests. It's hard to see excactly what's going on in every blood vessel in your body, so the doctor will order up blood tests. Blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides, C-reactive protein (and A1C, if you are diabetic). The doctor might have something to say about your weight and your physical fitness level, too. Your doctor will set some goals about where all of these values should be, and when they should get there. And maybe even give you some tips on diet and exercise.
But every body is different. Your doctor may or may not have recommended a particular diet or excercise. You can find out about exercise and diet to meet your health goals and reduce the risk of stroke....

If you've read about strokes, you'll know that they can be caused by
  • blood vessels getting narrow from growing plaque deposits, and blocking blood flow
  • broken bits of blood clots or unstable plaques travelling to a narrow place in a blood vessel (maybe one narrowed by plaque) and blocking blood flow
  • damaged blood vessels breaking, causing reduced blood flow downstream, and pooling of blood in the brain at the break
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says the most important treatable risk factors for stroke are
  • Lower your High Blood Pressure
    • Increase potassium in your diet, and reduce salt
    • Get enough vitamin D (10 minutes in the sun)
    • Take medication to lower your blood pressure; avoid medications (like decongestants) that raise it
    • Get more exercise
    • Maintain proper weight
  • Quit Cigarette Smoking. It raises blood pressure, contributes to heart disease, thickens blood.
  • Treat Heart Disease
    • lower your blood pressure (see above)
    • if your doctor says so, take a blood thinner (like aspirin) to prevent clots
    • improve your diet to slow plaque development
    • get checked for coronary artery disease, valve defects, irregular heart beat, or enlargement of the heart, which can all lead to blood clots
  • Warning signs or history of TIA or stroke
    • Learn the warning signs of a stroke and be prepared to call 911 early
    • A second stroke could be twice as bad, if it affects a part of the brain doing double duty for the section damaged in an earlier stroke.
  • Blood sugar, insulin, and diabetes
    • Reduce blood sugar and insulin to control blood pressure
    • Reduce blood sugar and insulin to protect your blood vessels
    • Reduce blood sugar and insulin to control heart disease
    • reduce blood sugar to reduce the amount of brain damage during a stroke
  • Balance your Cholesterol
    • Reduce your LDL to reduce plaque buildup, atherosclerosis, blood vessel narrowing
  • Increase your Physical Activity
    • Inactivity is associated with hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes
    • Aim for a good waist circumference to hip circumference ratio -- a high waist-to-hips ratio raises the ischemic stroke risk by 300%


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More about strokes

blood vessels in brainWithin three months of having a TIA [mini-stroke], about 10% to 15% of people will have an actual stroke." That means that, if you have had a mini-stroke in the fall, you have better than a 1 in 10 chance of having a big stroke before winter is over. Maybe just in time for Christmas....

The good news is that "chances of preventing a major stroke with the appropriate treatments following a TIA are excellent". But only if you seek medical attention right away, and follow through "with the treatments and recommendations" of your health care providers.

It means making extra trips to the doctor's office. As many as you need. It means making sure the doctor understands you. It means making sure you understand everything the doctor wants you to do.

It means getting exercise, getting out in the sunlight, and improving your diet.

It means doing your own reasearch, so you can understand what is going on in your body. You are in charge of your own health.

There is plenty of information available about strokes. For example, there is the WebMD Stroke Health Center. You can even find Stroke Risk Calculators online, like this one from the UCLA Stroke Center.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

What is a mini-stroke?

The biggest thing I've learned recently is that a mini-stroke is a warning that a big stroke is on the way...

A stroke is kind of like a heart attack, only in the brain instead of the heart. Here are some scary pictures

When you have a mini-stroke, an artery is blocked or partially blocked, or else it starts to bleed a little bit. You get symptoms that are like stroke symptoms, but usually milder. Then, when the blockage clears, or when the bleeding stops, the symptoms go away on their own.  The symptoms depend on which part of the brain is affected.  So you could experience anything from trouble talking to unexplained dizzyness to a sudden severe headache.

It's scary.

If you've had a mini-stroke in one part of your brain -- the next time, it could be in another part of your brain. It could be a real stroke next time.

Even scarier -- if you've noticed one mini-stroke, you may already have had several. And never noticed them. You could keep on having them. And never notice. Except that slowly, silently, they can kill a few brain cells at a time. And silently steal away your memories and your ability to think.  This is called vascular dementia. Your doctor might talk about multi-infarct dementia, which is the most common form of vascular dementia.

If you are at immediate risk for another stroke, you probably want to take some immediate steps to decrease your risk.

Their are two main causes of stroke.
  • Ischemic stroke is cause by blockages, often blood clots, in small blood vessels, or in arteries already narrowed by plaque build-up
  • Hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke is caused by blood vessels bursting and bleeding, often because they have been weakened by high blood pressure over a long time
To prevent ischemic strokes, you want to decrease inflammation immediately and continue to make choices that will slow down or even reverse narrowing of your arteries.  To prevent bleeding strokes, you want to get your blood pressure under control.

Sunshine, exercise, and a healthy diet will help with artery disease, blood pressure, and inflammation.

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