After my stroke, I find myself strongly motivated not to have another one. If you haven’t had a stroke, believe me when I tell you: it is about the least fun thing that can ever happen to you. You should do everything in your power to avoid it.
I’ve done a lot of reading on the topic of avoiding a stroke, and I thought I would share some of the tips I’ve run across.
If you’re reading this, you probably have a traumatic brain injury, maybe one caused by something heavily impacting your head in some way. If so, you don’t want to have a stroke on top of the TBI you already have. Trust me on this.
Keep your blood pressure under control
I always felt perfectly fine, so I didn’t make any effort to see a doctor and get checked out. I rarely got so much as a cold, so I figured I didn’t have anything to worry about and didn’t see any doctors for a lot of years. Do not do this. I had high blood pressure and didn’t know it. But high blood pressure caused my stroke and it almost did me in.
The upshot is that if you don’t know your blood pressure, see a doctor and find out what it is. I am told a consistent pressure reading in the range of 120/80 is good; get concerned when it consistently hits around 140/100 and higher. You will want to be tested more than once, on different days and at different times of day since your blood pressure can fluctuate due to various factors. You don’t always have to go to the doctor’s office to check. You can also have your blood pressure measured in places like Rite Aid, Walgreens and other such places. Many fire departments offer free blood pressure checks.
Your doctor can prescribe medications that will bring your pressure down to safe levels.
But please: do get checked out. I speak from personal experience when I tell you that living through a stroke is one of the least fun things you could ever do.
Feeling good isn’t a reason not to see a doctor. I felt great and thought I didn’t need to worry about my health. But a stroke doesn’t give you a whole lot of warning. Like me, you can be walking around without a care in the world one day and then wake up in the hospital with IVs stuck in your arm, wondering what the heck is going on. They don’t call strokes the silent killer for nothing.
Living a healthier lifestyle is a good idea
Quit smoking, limit alcohol, eat more fruits and vegetables, and keep your weight and blood sugar in check. Taking these steps can help lower your chances of having a stroke, and they have the added benefit that you will feel better. All your life you’ve heard lots of reasons to quit smoking; I won’t bore you with them. And there is nothing wrong with having a glass of wine with a meal. It’s the heavy drinking you want to avoid.
Other things you can do is to cut down on sodium; this involves more than cutting down on salt, which of course is always a good idea. Also, watch processed foods: cold cuts, canned soup, and a whole lot of other food items are processed and have high sodium. You will want to cut down on foods that will cause your blood vessels to get clogged with fat, cholesterol and plaque. When gunk builds up in your veins it makes your heart must work harder, and that can lead to not just strokes but also arteriosclerosis and heart problems. I’m told a heart attack isn’t any fun either. Also, having a heart attack is an indicator that you could also have a stroke later.
If you don’t already, make sure your diet is high in grains, fruits and vegetables and foods low in saturated fat. Your mother wasn’t fooling when she told you that vegetables are your friend.
It can’t be just coincidence that a heart-healthy diet is also a good preventative measure for strokes.
Exercise regularly. You don’t need to go to the gym; 20 minutes of walking every day is a good thing to do.
For one thing, it can help you keep your weight and blood glucose levels down. It also exercises your heart (in a good way) and helps it to keep healthy. Your heart is a muscle and exercise is good for it. Schlepping around excess weight puts strain on your heart and causes other problems, like strokes.
Rather than taking the elevator, when it is feasible, take the stairs instead. Instead of driving three blocks to the convenience store, try walking instead. Look at all the things you do in your life and find ways you can do them walking instead.
Get a handle on your anger and worry
Do you have a short fuse? Are you prone to worry–when there is nothing to worry about, do you worry about why there’s nothing to worry about? Stop doing it. Now.
Anger and worry produce stress and constant stress just simply isn’t good for your system. It can contribute to a stroke, especially if you already have the physical conditions that set you up for a stroke. Stress and worry can help open the door for that stroke.
I recommend learning how to meditate or using some other form of mental relaxation. If you can’t or won’t do that, there are several environmental recordings out there that can help. One that I particularly like is one that simulates the sound of rainfall in a forest. There are many others–I just like that one the most. They’re not hard to find; my nephew tells me there are even apps for that kind of thing.
Make it a habit to sit quietly and listen to those sounds. Let yourself be caught up in it. The time will fly right by and help you relax.
There is nothing wrong with occasionally getting angry or worrying. It’s when either of these gets to be your default position that you should worry. Learn to put things in perspective.
If all this sounds overly simplistic, that’s because it is. There are many other things you can do to avoid a stroke; This is meant to be a general introduction to the subject, and is by no means complete.
These tips and others can help prevent a stroke, and they can be helpful if you have already had a stroke, to prevent a second stroke. If, like me, you have already had one, you have a pretty good chance of having another one within the five years after the first one. About 795,000 Americans experience a stroke each year and about 185,000 of those strokes are recurrent strokes. About 25% of the 795,000 will go through another stroke within their lifetime. (To put this in perspective, 795,000 is higher than the total population of Wyoming, where I grew up).
One important point to consider: while it’s good to control the factors that you can do something about, there are some factors beyond your control, like genetics. Some strokes are going to happen regardless of how one lives his life. All you can do is go ahead and live your life and make it as full as you can; there’s no point in worrying about things you can’t control. But control the factors that you can control.
Let me make two last points here. The first is that you should really talk to a doctor about these things; you don’t want to be getting your medical advice from a guy that hadn’t seen a doctor in more than 20 years. Talk to a doctor, a real one. The second is that none of these things guarantees you will never have a stroke; but it is true that they can help lessen your chances of having one.
A stroke is a complex confluence of factors; preventing a stroke is also involved. It’s not possible for me to cover everything here. Ask your doctor for more involved information. But I hope I’ve given you something to think about.
I will leave you with the words of a famous wise man: Live long and prosper.
Isaac Peterson grew up on an Air Force base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. After graduating from the University of Wyoming, he embarked on a career as an award-winning investigative journalist and as a semi-professional musician in the Twin Cities, the place he called home on and off for 35 years. He also doesn’t mind it at all if someone offers to pick up his restaurant tab. Peterson also welcomes reader comments. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.