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Stroke

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The experience of stroke or transient ischemic attack should be a wakeup call that cardiovascular illness is present and needs to be treated and remedied as possible. While patients should consult with their doctors to obtain the latest and most effective medical treatments appropriate for their condition, there are also several relatively simple lifestyle changes that patients can make that can substantially reduce their risk for stroke recurrence. As with any lifestyle modification program, it is important to check with your doctor before making major changes to how you are living.

  • Quit Smoking. The first change in your life you should make is to quit smoking. This is often one of the hardest lifestyle changes to make but it is also one of the most important. Chemicals within tobacco smoke damage arterial walls. These damaged vessel walls provide irregular surfaces where blood clots that can lead to strokes are more likely to form. Smoking also reduces the amount of oxygen present in the blood, making the heart work harder to supply a constant supply of oxygen to the body. It causes other serious and life-threatening diseases including lung and heart diseases. When people quit smoking, their risk of having a stroke decreases immediately. However, it takes several years of sustained non-smoking until the full health benefit of not smoking is realized.

    Nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco, is an addictive drug, and smokers often find themselves addicted to smoking. Nevertheless, many people have managed to quit smoking 'cold turkey', and still others have benefited from the numerous stop smoking programs and medical treatments in existence today that can help smokers to quit. Employee Assistance Programs and medical professionals can often refer you to techniques, support groups and helpful classes on quitting smoking.

  • Eat A Healthy Diet. Your dietary choices can contribute to or lessen your stroke risk. As obesity is a stroke risk, losing weight to return to a recommended weight for your body size (perhaps with the aid of a systematic weight loss plan such as are offered by Weight Watchers) can help lower your overall risk. In addition to the amount of food you consume, it is also important to pay attention to the types of food you eat. Dietary sources of cholesterol can be all but eliminated by eating a nutritious non-dairy vegetarian diet. If a completely vegetarian diet is not for you, know that substantially lowering the amount of meat and dairy you consume (but not giving it up entirely) and eating more vegetables and fruits can also lower your cholesterol intake. In either case, limiting the total amount of fat grams you take in each day, and also paying closest attention to limiting saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, and partially-hydrogenated oils (found in foods like butter, certain oils, salad dressings and some desserts) is a good idea. You should check with your doctor before making dietary changes.

  • Exercise Regularly. Getting regular aerobic exercise that raises your heart rate for extended periods of time (brisk walking, jogging, swimming, court sports, etc.) is another way in which you can lower your stroke risk. Aerobic activities raise your heart rate and strengthen your cardiovascular system, and help manage cholesterol. Exercise can be a fun way to relieve stress, gain confidence, and give you a general sense of well-being. As a stroke patient, you should check with your doctor before beginning any new program of exercise to make sure that exercise will be safe for you to engage in. Your doctor may administer a stress test, the results of which will help her know what level of activity is appropriate for you. The current recommendations for physical activity range from 30-90 minutes depending on your goal. To learn more about diet and exercise visit: http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines

  • Get Your Affairs In Order. Stroke is a sometimes disabling event that can rob victims of the ability to communicate their wishes. It is best if all adults (at risk adults or not) prepare a 'living will' in advance of health problems which can articulate their desires for medical intervention and life support in the event they are not able to speak for themselves. It may also be appropriate to designate a “health care proxy” who can make decisions for you in the event that you are unable to do so. Stroke survivors who don't have such a document prepared should strongly consider preparing such a document if they are able. End of life issue can be discussed between patients and their family and loved ones so that all relevant parties know of the patient's wishes.

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