Have you filled out your stroke risk scorecard?
By: Allison Maffei, DPT,
How often do you assess your risk for stroke? At over 795,000 people per year, stroke is the leading cause of cardiovascular disability and death in the United States. Furthermore, one in four strokes are by someone who had a previous stroke. As a physical therapist and a board-certified neurological clinical specialist, I have seen many patients recovering from the challenging side-effects of strokes, some of which will last their lifetime. What many people do not know is that the majority of strokes are preventable. Filling out an annual stroke scorecard (see link) can help you mitigate your risk and track if that risk is increasing or decreasing over time.
The stroke scorecard, developed by the National Stroke Association examines 8 factors to assess your risk for developing a stroke into low risk, caution, or high risk. These factors are:
A blood pressure of >140/90 puts an individual at a significantly increased risk of stroke. As we age and arteries harden, it can be normal for blood pressure to increase slightly. Too high of a
blood pressure, however, is a big red flag. Drugstore blood pressure cuffs can be an accurate way to screen for problems. Blood pressure changes throughout the day and is lowest right after waking. For accuracy, take your blood pressure at the same time each day, preferably before exercising. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your blood pressure. Natural ways to control blood pressure include lowering the salt in your diet, being active daily, and adding whole grains and vegetables to your diet.
Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition in which one of the chambers of the heart beats abnormally. This causes turbulent blood flow in the heart and is a common cause for blood clots that can travel to the brain and cut-off oxygen. This is known as an ischemic stroke. The best way to know if you develop “A-fib” is to see your doctor regularly.
There is no amount of nicotine that is safe, period. Smoking is also an incredibly hard addiction to break. People often use support groups and/or medications to try to help stop smoking. Studies show that both can be helpful, but that the combination of the two is the most effective way to stop smoking. Talk to your doctor about nicotine patches or other medications. California has a free program to help reduce smoking at www.kickitca.org or 1-800-300-8086.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in animal fats that builds up in our arteries. These buildups can block blood supply to the heart and brain causing heart attacks or strokes. Your doctor should check your cholesterol regularly, and there are medications to lower your cholesterol, if it gets too high. Control your cholesterol naturally by eating a diet high in whole grains and veggies. Go for leaner meats such as poultry and fish more often, and save red meat for special occasions.
Having diabetes puts you at an increased risk of stroke, since too much sugar in the blood can lead to extra fat deposits and blood clots in the arteries. If you have diabetes, see your doctor regularly and manage the disease responsibly. Performing light exercise (such as a brisk walk) soon after eating can also help managing diabetes.
Moving your body regularly is important for reducing your stroke risk. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends adults participate in 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week. While the dreaded “E” word may seem like a chore, moderate exercise is defined as any activity that increases your heart and breathing rate such as walking, hiking, biking, swimming, and even dancing. For beginners, split the exercise up into small chunks such as a 15-minute walk in the morning and evening.
Do you consider yourself overweight, slightly overweight, or a healthy weight? Keeping control of your weight is an important part of being healthy. Manage your weight by drinking plenty of fluids, adding lean meats, produce and whole grains into your diet, and move your body every day. Save desserts and take-out for 1-2 days per week.
Statistically, if your parents, grandparents, or siblings have had a stroke, you are at a higher risk. While genetics seems to play a role in this statistic, lifestyle and habits passed from generation to generation are likely the biggest culprit. It’s something to keep in mind as you assess your risk.
Strokes are the 5th leading cause of death from cardiovascular disease in the United States. In fact, someone has a stroke in the US every 40 seconds, and someone dies from a stroke every 4 minutes. With statistics like these looming over us, it makes sense to regularly monitor your risk for stroke and make reasonable changes to reduce it. Download your stroke scorecard at https://www.neurology-stroke.com/pdfs/Stroke-Risk-Assessment-Scorecard.pdf and fill it out today. If you have concerns, bring it to your next doctor or therapy appointment, and discuss your risk with a medical professional.
Consider making this your New Year’s tradition, encourage family and friends to do it with you, and stay moving!
Move Better, Live Better.