One in five women will have a stroke in her lifetime, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t like those odds. As women, we are even more likely than our male counterparts to have a stroke, partially because we live longer.
Strokes can be devastating because of the loss of major bodily functions and mobility that typically accompany this disease. But the research is now showing another very serious outcome of stroke: a leaky gut. The lining of the gut is actually changed during a stroke to allow bad bacteria or toxins to enter the bloodstream. This disorder is called endotoxemia, and it can create chronic inflammation and lead to:
Here are the six most important factors to help us avoid having a stroke:
By far the biggest factor in helping avoid a stroke is keeping your blood pressure low. Each single point of lower blood pressure has a huge impact on stroke risk. The tricky part of hypertension (high blood pressure) is that many times there are no accompanying symptoms, so it is important to be tested often for this very treatable condition. Statins, aspirin, and other methods are easy fixes for this dangerous disease.
Along with hypertension, be sure to get treatment for other issues that increase your risk of stroke such as diabetes and high cholesterol. By the way, the recommended blood pressure is lower than 120/80.
Obesity increases the risk of stroke, and even losing as little as 10 pounds can have a big impact on lowering the risk. Achieve this by 1) watching your calorie intake, generally no more than 1500-2000 per day depending on your activity level, and 2) increasing your exercise. Body mass index (BMI) is frequently used to assess your weight. See here for more information (https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/index.html).
While we’re on the subject of exercise, it stands by itself as a way to reduce your risk of stroke. The recommended goal for exercise is moderate intensity for 30 minutes, 5 times per week. Take a walk, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further from the grocery store than necessary – all are ways to improve your activity level and are helpful when combined with real exercise, which should cause you to breathe hard but still talk. For more information, click here (https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/index.html).
A little alcohol may actually decrease your risk of stroke but overdrinking will sharply increase your risk. One alcoholic drink per day is the recommended amount (or no drinks). This translates to only a 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer, or a 1.5-ounce glass of liquor. Red wine is preferable because it contains resveratrol, which may protect the heart and brain. The CDC’s Alcohol & Public Health website offers more information (https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/).
Smoking both thickens your blood and increases plaque build up in the arteries, leading to an increased risk of having a stroke. Smoking cessation is one of the most powerful lifestyle changes you can make both to avoid a stroke and for your overall health. Information about smoking and quitting can be found here (https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/).
Depression, stemming from loneliness, is now thought to be a significant stroke risk. A full 52% of women over 80 live alone, and that number is growing. Living alone by itself can be fine when paired with an active social life. But living solo can easily lead to isolation, serious loneliness, and depression, especially in the elderly population because it’s generally harder for them to get out.
It’s important to note that the speed with which a stroke is diagnosed and treated significantly affects the eventual outcome. So it is imperative to act quickly if you even suspect a stroke. The acronym for the signs of stroke is FAST:
F = facial droop
A = arm drifts down after being lifted
S = speech is impaired
T = time to call 911 immediately
Other signs of a stroke include:
So if all the steps of prevention didn’t work and you even suspect a stroke, get it checked out. As Dr. Louise McCullough, Neurology Department Chair at UTHealth Science Center, says, “Get over your embarrassment – you’d rather be safe than sorry.”