Any kind of medical emergency can be terrifying—and a stroke is one of the scariest, since it seems so hard to avoid. While there are fewer deaths related to stroke now than there have been in the past, per the Mayo Clinic, the condition can lead to temporary and permanent disabilities, prompting researchers to actively investigate preventive measures. Following a healthy diet and exercising regularly can reduce risk, but new research suggests that there are certain things you’re not doing that have the opposite effect. Read on to find out how you could be upping your chances of having a stroke.
We’ve all heard of the term “stroke,” but what actually happens when one occurs? According to the Mayo Clinic, stroke is caused by interruptions or reductions in blood supply to part of the brain, meaning brain tissue is unable to get proper oxygen and nutrients. Within a matter of minutes, brain cells begin to die, and may induce symptoms such as trouble speaking or understanding, paralysis and numbness, headache, blurred vision, or trouble walking, the Mayo Clinic says.
There are different kinds of stroke, including ischemic (the most common), which is caused by a blocked blood vessel, and hemorrhagic, which occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures or bursts. Some people also experience a transient ischemic attack—sometimes called a “ministroke”—which doesn’t cause permanent damage, but occurs due to reduced blood supply to the brain.
You probably know that stroke risk increases with age, but there are a wide range of additional stroke risk factors. The list likely won’t surprise you, as it includes the usual suspects—diabetes, high blood pressure, and atrial fibrillation, among others. But if you aren’t aware that you have some of these conditions, you may be inadvertently increasing your risk.
Researchers at Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland recently evaluated the medical records of 4,354 patients from the Acute Stroke Registry and Analysis of Lausanne (ASTRAL), according to data presented at the 2022 Congress of the European Academy of Neurology. Interestingly, approximately 1,125 patients, or 67.7 percent, had previously undiagnosed major vascular risk factors (UMRF). Simply put, they had a condition that upped their stroke risk, but they weren’t aware that they had it.
The most common UMRF included conditions that medical professionals know raise stroke risk, namely hypertension, which was found in 23.7 percent of patients, and atrial fibrillation, found in 10.2 percent of patients. Dyslipidemia, the medical term for high cholesterol, affected the largest number of UMRF patients, at 61.4 percent.
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André Rêgo, the lead author of the study, spoke with Medical News Today (MNT) on the findings, outlining his concerns about patients who have these conditions but don’t know it. People may not seek out care due to financial concerns, he told the outlet, and as many of these risk factors are “silent,” people might not realize they have them and need medical care. According to Rêgo, “people may react more to symptomatic health issues.”
Data shows that those with lower body mass index (BMI) were more likely to be unaware of their UMRF before having a stroke, Rêgo told MNT, and suggested these people might have “less perception of being at risk.”
“Prior to our study, there was scarce clinical information about the frequency, patient profile, and stroke mechanisms in patients with acute ischemic stroke with previously undiagnosed major vascular risk factors,” Rêgo told MNT. “We hope that this study will help to identify potential stroke patients that require more intensive prevention techniques and surveillance in the future.”
Even if you feel fit as a fiddle, results from the European study suggest you could be living with a UMRF, which may put you at higher risk of stroke. In fact, the study also found that those with undetected conditions were younger patients. Women under the age of 55 on contraceptives and people who were not white were also more likely to have UMRF, MNT reported.
To get potential underlying conditions under control, those in the healthcare field recommend you head to the doctor every year.
“Prevention of stroke is the best cure,” Krista Elkins, NRP, RN, specialist at HealthCanal, tells Best Life. “Conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and atrial fibrillation are often preventable, and they are most certainly treatable. It’s important for a person to see their doctor annually to detect these conditions and prevent the possibility of having a stroke.”
In addition to lifestyle changes, Nancy Mitchell, RN, contributing writer at Assisted Living Center, stresses that you can make dietary changes to lower cholesterol, as well as your risk of these troublesome cardiovascular diseases. “Typically, a low-fat diet that’s rich in fiber can help reduce and reverse certain cardiovascular ailments that lead to stroke,” she says. “Fiber helps carry cholesterol out of your body during digesting, lowering your overall cholesterol levels.”