Did you know that one in five women in the US will have a stroke in her life? That’s twenty percent. You probably have a good group of girlfriends that’s at least five strong. Look around. One of them could be a victim. It could be you. While stroke doesn’t always lead to death, 60 percent of stroke-related deaths are in women, and strokes take more lives from the female population than breast cancer. They don’t seem to get as much publicity, as much philanthropic attention, or as many marches and marathons as breast cancer does, though. That makes it fit its name “The silent killer” even better—though the real reason behind this name is that there are often no symptoms of the causes of stroke, until it’s too late. But we can educate ourselves on this terrible danger, and perhaps reduce our risk. Here are the top risk factors for stroke, and how to combat them.
First, a look at strokes
There are two types of strokes. We’ll start with the most common one—the ischemic stroke. This occurs when fatty deposits from the arteries break away and make their way to the brain, where they interfere with the path of blood vessels delivering blood to the brain. Eighty percent of strokes are ischemic.
The hemorrhagic stroke
Though less common, it can still be fatal—the hemorrhagic stroke. This type of stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain either bursts, or leaks.
The mini stroke
Though it isn’t a full stroke so not really considered a third type of stroke, the mini stroke is a risk. Its official name is the transient ischemic stroke. It’s caused by a temporary blockage in the brain, and though it doesn’t cause permanent damage, it increases one’s risk of a full stroke.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure—or hypertension—is the top cause of stroke. Those with blood pressure exceeding 140/90 could be at risk for a stroke, and their blood pressure may be the main topic of discussion at every doctor’s visit. Though those with blood pressure of 130/80 could be considered at risk, too.
What to do about hypertension
There are several ways you can naturally lower your blood pressure, including exercise and dietary changes. A big one will be cutting back on sodium, as well as caffeine, and alcohol. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough—which can often be the case for adults over the age of 65—your doctor may prescribe you certain medications that lower blood pressure.
While some people smoke in order to curb cravings for the type of food that makes blood pressure spike, tobacco itself can cause hypertension. It leads to a build of up fatty deposits in the main neck artery, and can thicken blood, making it more likely to clot.
Second hand smokers are at risk
If you live with a smoker or spend a lot of time around smokers, you could still be at risk for hypertension. Simple exposure to cigarette smoke can lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries.
The natural answer is to quite smoking—as well as the use of any tobacco products like dip and cigars. Of course, it’s easier said than done. If you live with someone who is trying to quit, you’ll be a part of that journey, and the things you do can help him succeed, or fall off the wagon.
If you already have early signs of heart disease, then you likely already have high blood pressure. But know that heart disease greatly increases the risk of stroke. Heart disease can come with clogged arteries from fatty deposits, increasing the risk of stroke.
What to do
Managing heart disease risk looks quite similar to managing hypertension. Eating a low-sodium, heart-healthy diet, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight will all be important. Managing stress is also essential to those at risk for heart disease.
Unfortunately, the pill you take to prevent pregnancy can increase your risk of blood clots, which in turn increases risk of stroke. Low-dose estrogen pills pump out hormones into your body that make it believe it is pregnant, which is how they prevent pregnancy. But estrogen could be responsible for increased clotting.
Switch to an IUD
A hormonal IUD doesn’t contain estrogen, so it comes with fewer side effects than the pill. If you don’t plan on having children, and don’t want to be on the pill forever due to possible complications, it may be time to learn about IUDs.
The very medicine that doctors recommend for reducing blood clots (a risk for stroke) can be a risk for stroke. Blood thinners can increase the chances of a stroke through bleeding.
Using blood thinners correctly
Don’t take more than your recommended dose of blood thinners. Also know that there are several different kinds, some bring more risk than others, and some even interact negatively with certain foods and other medications, making them less effective. Educate yourself on blood thinners, should your doctor recommend you take them.
Your family and age
Strokes can run in the family. If your relatives have had strokes, you should monitor your risk factors—like weight and blood pressure—closely. Anyone over the age of 55 is at a heightened risk of stroke, too. So these two groups—those who have stroke in their family medical history, and those over age 55—should keep up with regular physicals and monitor their risk factors.