May is American Stroke Month and it is the perfect time to learn about strokes and how to prevent them. Certain risk factors such as increasing age, gender, heredity and race and prior stroke can’t be avoided, but you can take control of other factors, including smoking.
A stroke happens when blood flow to one or more areas of the brain is blocked. When this happens, the brain can’t get the oxygen it needs, and brain cells begin to die quickly. Strokes can happen at any age, but are more common in adults over 50 with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, artery disease, AFib, transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), and certain blood disorders such as sickle cell disease.
High blood pressure is a common medical condition and is a major causes of strokes, yet many people are not aware their pressure is too high because there usually are no symptoms. A good place to start is with a physical examination from your health care provider to assess your numbers. The American Heart Association has five blood pressure ranges to help you understand where your numbers fall.
Another risk factor that is high on the list is smoking. Each time you light up the nicotine causes an increase in your blood pressure, heart rate and the flow of blood from the heart. The arteries also narrow. Your cells need oxygen, but carbon monoxide in the smoke reduces the amount of oxygen the blood can supply. Smoking also makes blood platelets stickier, making clots more likely to form.
Some smokers have switched to electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes because they believe they are safer. But several studies suggest that e-cigarette use increased heart rate and blood pressure, especially the diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number). Long-term studies in mice exposed to e-cigarette vapor showed “arteries that were 2.5 times stiffer than normal,” which can lead to heart disease. Right now not enough is known about vaping to determine the safety long-term.
There are certain factors that you can’t control when it comes to a stroke, but you can control your blood pressure, weight, diet, and exercise, and proper treatment of medical conditions such as diabetes. And if you are a smoker, quitting can not only improve your breathing, it can improve your blood pressure and help you better manage your diabetes. Let’s get healthy.
Click HERE for more information on strokes.
FAST Image from Louisiana Hospital Association
Blood Pressure Guideline image used by American Heart and American Stroke Associations