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6 Surprising Stroke Risks

There are many lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of stroke – and some surprising things that put you at risk that you might not even know about.

The simplest explanation of what causes a stroke is that an artery becomes blocked, preventing the brain from receiving enough blood flow. However, the big picture is far more complicated. A stroke is the final symptom that shows up as the result of many factors. Any reading above 130/80 mmHg is considered hypertension.

How To Help Prevent a Stroke

Take your blood pressure regularly. Check your blood pressure at least once a month if you’re 40 or older. Often called the “silent killer,” high blood pressure presents no symptoms and is the biggest risk factor for strokes, causing more than 65 percent of them. Only 69 percent of people with high blood pressure know that they have it.  Try checking your blood pressure at home or a pharmacy so that the stress of simply being in the doctor’s office doesn’t artificially raise the reading.

Check the dose of your hypertension medication. If you have hypertension and are taking medication for it, check with your doctor to find out if it is still the best medication and dose for you. More than 50 percent of people on medication for blood pressure are taking an ineffective medication or dosage.

Watch your weight. Extra pounds can increase your risk. The CDC recommends 150 active minutes a week, which can be done in 30-minute sessions. Five sessions a week is ideal, but even exercising three times a week can help. Not only does exercise help keep weight down, but it also strengthens the heart, improves heart function and reduces plaque buildup, all of which reduce your risk of high blood pressure.

Stop smoking. Many hospitals offer free tools as well as smoking cessation classes to make the process more feasible.

  • Lower your cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol, limit the amount of high-calorie foods you consume, including:
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Red meat
  • Fried foods
  • Pastries and baked goods
  • Eggs

Limit alcohol consumption. Anyone who drinks more than two alcoholic beverages a day significantly increases their stroke risk.

6 Lesser-Known Stroke Risks

There are other factors that can put you at a higher risk for stroke, including:

  1. Pregnancy and giving birth. During pregnancy and after giving birth, your body is changing rapidly, causing massive fluid shifts and hormone changes. Postpartum cardiomyopathy can occur in the last month of pregnancy or the first five months after your baby has been born. This condition is rare, affecting about 1,000 women a year.
  2. COVID. If you’ve had COVID, you might have a higher stroke risk. Surviving COVID can predispose you to heart conditions, as well as increased risk of blood clots.
  3. Chiropractic manipulations. Although rare, a vertebral artery dissection — that is, a tear in the vertebral artery leading to the brain — can occur. A clot can form, which then decreases blood flow to the brain.
  4. Chemo treatments for cancer. Chemotherapy can cause irregular blood coagulation.
  5. Hormone replacement therapy. This can increase your risk of stroke because it increases the likelihood of blood clots forming.
  6. Birth control. Birth controls that raise estrogen levels also increase the likelihood of a stroke. However, not everyone who takes a hormone birth control will be affected. If you have migraines while taking certain birth control medicines or are a smoker, you should not take hormonal birth control pills. Consider, too, that anyone at higher risk for strokes should avoid birth control that alters estrogen levels.

Any of these risk factors should be discussed with your doctor. As with any health concern, preventative care is easier and less risky than addressing a health concern after a major event, such as a stroke, has occurred.

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