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April 22, 2009 > What Does Your Risk for Stroke Look Like?

What Does Your Risk for Stroke Look Like?

When a person comes into the emergency room after a stroke, one of the first things Washington Hospital's Stroke Response Team documents is the patient's stroke risk profile. This includes factors like family and medical history, gender, age, blood pressure, weight and cholesterol.

Why? Because, when combined, these pieces of information serve as a roadmap for how likely it is a person will suffer a stroke.

The next Stroke Education Series at Washington Hospital on Monday, May 4, will focus on stroke prevention and healthy lifestyle, and the hospital's Stroke Program Coordinator, Doug Van Houten, R.N., will talk about how to assess your stroke risk before you suffer a stroke.

"The question to ask now is: What is your stroke risk or lifestyle snapshot?" Van Houten says. "If someone could take a snapshot of your risk for stroke right now, what would it show? For instance, are you African American? Your risk is double for stroke. If you're Hispanic between the ages of 45 and 60, your risk doubles. And Asian and Pacific Islanders are at an increased risk for intracranial hemorrhage."

Factors like ethnicity, genetics - do you have a close relative who has had a stroke - age and gender all have an impact on stroke risk. These are all things you can't change. But there are plenty of risk factors you can control.

Healthy choices

If you make healthy lifestyle choices, which include diet and exercise, then you can greatly reduce your risk of stroke, which Van Houten says affects 785,000 people in the United States each year.

Here are some of the questions to ask yourself. The answers can help establish your stroke risk, as well as healthy lifestyle changes you need to make in order to avoid stroke in the future:
* Do you have high blood pressure?
* Can you calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI)?
* Are you overweight? (A BMI of more than 25)
* Do you exceed recommendations for moderate drinking?
* Do you smoke?
* Do you know your cholesterol numbers?
* Do you have a history of stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)?
* Do you have diabetes?
* Do you know the signs of stroke?

"The challenge is what to do about the risk factors since stroke is mostly preventable," Van Houten says. "I want to people to see where stroke hits home, including risk factors that they might have. During this talk, I want people to look at what they can do now to avoid a stroke down the road. This is a positive message: You're OK now, so what lifestyle changes can you make to be sure you stay healthy?"

Blood pressure is a good place to start

Of all the lifestyle changes people can make to reduce the chances of having a stroke, Van Houten says managing blood pressure is a good place to start.

"During my talk I point out that if you could control all the hypertension cases in the United States, you could reduce the number of strokes by close to half," he says. "It's not just about medications for lowering blood pressure. I tell patients: 'Get a blood pressure cuff and keep record in a little diary.' Learn what foods are high in sodium because maybe you're one of those people whose blood pressure is really affected by sodium. Another important thing to remember is that for every two pounds you lose, you can lower your blood pressure by one point.

"Exercise regularly and lose weight and you can help lower your blood pressure. These are good examples of actions you can take to lower blood pressure that aren't medication related. If you're already taking medication, but you're making good strides, maybe you can come off the medications with your doctor's assistance."

Van Houten stresses that each patient is different and that it's important to talk to your physician to determine the best possible course of action. However, a sensible diet is usually a good place to start.

"I often bring up the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which is government sponsored program that gives you examples of ways to eat every day," he says. "This is a good way to learn what foods are low in sodium and fat. It's important to learn what healthy foods really are, since it's not always common sense."

Find out how a healthy lifestyle can reduce your chances of stroke
To find out more about stroke prevention and ways to make long-lasting changes to your lifestyle, join Van Houten for the upcoming Stroke Prevention and Other Disease Processes/Healthy Lifestyle - Be Smart and Avoid Stroke seminar.

The talk will be held from 12 to 2 p.m. on Monday, May 4, in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.
Call (800) 963-7070 to register.

To find out more about Washington Hospital's Stroke Program or the Stroke Support Group at the hospital, visit, click on "Taylor McAdam Bell Neuroscience Institute" and select "Stroke Program" from the drop-down menu.

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