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July 30, 2008 > Are You Doing All You Can to Prevent Stroke?

Are You Doing All You Can to Prevent Stroke?

Learn Tricks to Making the Most Out of Healthy Lifestyle Changes

What if someone told you he or she had the secret to almost guaranteeing that you could prevent one of the most deadly - and certainly the most debilitating - health problem facing Americans today? You would want to find out more, right?

Stroke, also known as "brain attack," remains the No. 1 cause of serious long-term disability, but the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that the number of strokes in the United States could be reduced by as much as 70 percent.

Doug Van Houten, R.N., program coordinator for Washington Hospital's Stroke Center, feels even more optimistic about reducing the number of strokes. On Aug. 5, Van Houten will present a wealth of new information about how healthy lifestyle changes can aid in stroke prevention. He will also field questions from members of the community looking to improve their chances of avoiding a first or subsequent stroke.

"Almost all strokes are preventable," he says. "It's all related to a person's risk factors. When we have patients come in, during my evaluation, I want to see if they have the appropriate risk factors for stroke, which include things such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, smoking and excessive alcohol use because these are a major predictor of stroke risk."


Starting with high blood pressure
Controlling high blood pressure through proactive lifestyle changes, according to Van Houten, is an excellent first step towards avoiding a stroke in the future. Plus, there is another added benefit to lowering blood pressure the old-fashioned way - possibly avoiding medications.

"Normal blood pressure is supposed to be less than 120/80," he says. "Now, I don't want to give medications a bad name, but if you want to avoid having to take regular medications for blood pressure, why not try doing 30 minutes of daily exercise, taking on the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, losing weight and lowering your sodium intake?"

Van Houten points out that every two pounds lost could lower blood pressure by a point for someone whose weight is contributing to their high blood pressure. He is a big believer in the benefits to lowering blood pressure naturally and says the results go far beyond the intangible. Weight loss not only improves health but also can bolster self-image and the ability to do a range of activities.

Stress reduction is another way to potentially keep high blood pressure in check. Van Houten talks about the benefits of relaxation techniques and yoga in reducing blood pressure. A yoga expert has even become a regular visitor to the Stroke Program's support group, held the first Tuesday of each month from 1 to 2:30 p.m. (To learn more, call (800) 963-7070 for a free copy of the Health & Wellness Catalog.)


Know your cholesterol
In addition to high blood pressure, another significant risk factor for stroke that Van Houten discusses includes high cholesterol.

"When you're looking to reduce your cholesterol, you've got to make yourself knowledgeable," he says. "On average, we are supposed to consume less than 260 mg of cholesterol a day - that's less than the cholesterol in one egg! Diets that are high in fat tend to increase the cholesterol you have in your body so it's important to moderate your fat intake."

It's always advisable to visit the doctor and have your cholesterol checked so you know whether or not you have a problem.

Van Houten says that some studies also indicate that doing regular exercise may increase high-density lipoproteins (HDL), known as good cholesterol, and decrease low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol, which can ultimately help reduce the chances of stroke.


Little tips
After decades in acute care nursing, Van Houten has picked up a million little tricks for helping people make good on their lifestyle changes.

"During each seminar, I try to give participants little healthy tips they can use when they go home to help them maintain a healthier lifestyle," he says. "One doctor told me, for instance, that he found a great way to reduce weight. The trick is never to eat anything standing up, because if you think about it, the foods you eat while standing up might be a candy bar or cookie rather than low-fat, nutrient rich options."

But if stroke is considered such a preventable disease, why does it remain the No. 3 killer of adult Americans? Van Houten has a theory.

"Some people smoke and then they're devastated by lung cancer. Others drink in excess and develop liver cirrhosis. Others ignore their diets and are surprised to find they have diabetes," he says. "Many of these devastating diseases are preventable and you don't have to go that route. The reality is that people get into habits that are comfortable for them. Sometimes things have to hit you in the face before you wake up and realize you need to do something."

The problem with stroke, Van Houten says, is that because the disease typically has no "warning" signs, there may be no turning back if you wait too long to make some simple lifestyle changes. If you're looking to make changes, the time is now, not later.


Prevention is always best
"Prevention is always the best option," according to Van Houten. "Think of it this way: You can build your house back up if it burns down, but it's a whole lot better to put in smoke alarms and make sure the electrical is up to code. Prevention, if it's really done right, will almost guarantee you're not going to have a stroke."

To hear more about what you can do to make healthy lifestyle changes and reduce your chances of having a stroke, join other community members from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 5, at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont, located across the street from the main hospital.
Call (800) 963-7070 to register.

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