By Annette Pinder

Stroke has been described as a “brain attack.” Dr. Kenneth V. Snyder, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery, Radiology, and Neurology, Department of Neurosurgery

Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explains that stroke occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain becomes blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain breaks, which can damage or kill brain cells. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion says stroke is a leading cause of death and long-term disability in adults, and can also cause irreversible damage to the brain. Stroke patients end up with memory problems, difficulty thinking or forming words, and mobility issues, such as difficulty walking, paralysis and weakness, as well as incontinence and other issues due to neurological damage.

Although stroke can come out of the blue and is not always preventable, there are several steps people can take to help reduce their risk for stroke.

  • Reduce blood pressure numbers. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a significant risk factor for stroke, says Harvard Health. Doctors may advise patients to work to lower blood pressure to between 140/90 to 120/80.
  • Work to lower BMI. Overweight or obesity increases risk for stroke, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Losing weight and maintaining a healthy body mass index can help lower stroke risk.
  • Exercise more often. Routine physical activity can help a person lose weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels — all of which are risk factors for stroke. The U.S. Surgeon General recommends individuals get a minimum of two hours and 20 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week.
  • Get a cholesterol check. High cholesterol can increase stroke risk, making routine cholesterol checks important. The Office for the Assistant Secretary of Health says people should get their cholesterol checked at least every four to six years, with some needing to get it checked more frequently.
  • Drink only in moderation. Alcohol can increase your risk for high blood pressure. Individuals should reduce their alcohol intake, with one drink or less per day for women, and two drinks or less per day for men.
  • Know your family health history. Knowing one’s family health history may illustrate a risk for genetic health conditions that predispose a person to stroke.
  • Treat heart disease. Do not delay medical treatment for heart disease. Heart conditions like coronary artery disease or atrial fibrillation should be addressed promptly to prevent stroke.

Dr. Snyder says, “It is also important to remember that, unlike a “heart attack,” which causes pain, a “brain attack” does not. This is because the organ a person relies upon for thinking is having the attack. Individuals experiencing a stroke often feel confused and want to sleep it off, which is something we actually try to prevent. Seeing someone who appears confused and having difficulty may be an indication of a stroke, which requires medical help. If it happens to you, and your body is able to return to normal function, realize it is emergency, and seek help immediately. A minor stroke is often a warning sign that a major stroke is on the way.

Stroke is a serious medical condition that can leave a person debilitated. That is why it is key to reduce risk of stroke throughout one’s life, and to act quickly if either you or someone you observe appears to be having a stroke.