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Fewer People are Dying of Stroke, but More People are at Risk

January 04, 2018

Stroke, which typically occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked, is one of the most debilitating conditions anyone can experience.

Each year, about 795,000 people have a stroke and 140,000 people die from it. Though advances in treatment have enabled us to save many more lives, one study indicates that we may need to place even more emphasis on prevention. 

The study, published in the journal Neurology, sought to evaluate trends in the prevalence of stroke risk factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, drug abuse and cardiovascular diseases in the U.S. To do this, researchers reviewed data for about 922,000 people who were hospitalized for stroke over a 10-year period from 2004 to 2014. 

They discovered an increased prevalence of many stroke risk factors over the 10-year period. Rates of high blood pressure rose from 73 to 84 percent, high cholesterol rates increased from 29 to 59 percent and diabetes rates increased from 31 to 38 percent. Rates of smoking, drug abuse, kidney failure and plaque buildup in the neck arteries also rose during the study period. Overall, 95 percent of stroke patients had at least one stroke risk factor in 2014, compared to 88 percent of patients in 2004.

The study highlights an alarming trend. Many of the risk factors cited in the research, and that are well-known to cause stroke, are preventable and can be altered with lifestyle changes. It’s critical for people to become better advocates and more proactive about their own health, which should include regular doctor’s visits to get your numbers checked. If you don’t know your blood sugar, blood pressure or cholesterol numbers, you should. Having this information can lead to medical and lifestyle interventions that could improve your health and lower your risk for stroke and other chronic conditions.

The study’s researchers also say the results indicate more work needs to be done to reduce stroke risk. They say despite several guidelines and prevention initiatives, rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking and drug abuse increased over the 10-year period they tracked. “Enhanced risk factor modification strategies and implementation of evidence-based recommendations are needed for optimal stroke prevention,” the researchers say.

There are several things you can do to reduce your stroke risk. Being physically active and eating a balanced, nutrient-dense, heart-healthy diet are at the top of the list. Not smoking and making every effort to stay within a healthy weight range are crucial, too. If you don’t know where to start, talk to your doctor to get guidance. Your doctor can provide information on the most effective prevention strategies for your particular situation, which may include medication in addition to lifestyle changes.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the country. But even when someone survives a stroke, the road to rehabilitation and recovery can be a long one. While we’ve gotten better at saving more lives, we need to make even more of an effort to prevent stroke from happening in the first place, and part of that will come from educating patients about stroke risk factors and doing everything possible to intervene early to help them lower their risk.

Find out your stroke risk

Most strokes involve a clot that blocks blood flow to your brain (ischemic stroke). Sometimes, a weakened blood vessel breaks, causing bleeding (hemorrhagic stroke). A temporary clot can cause a “mini stroke” or TIA (transient ischemic attack). The smallest stroke can damage your brain or warn of a bigger stroke to come. It can limit your ability to think, talk or move. If you see symptoms, call 911 right away.

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