A stroke is a devastating, life changing occurrence that knocks most patients for a loop when they come to terms with the reality of the situation. Some patients experience profound disability following a stroke, and some only suffer minor deficits that are easily surmounted with physical therapy and medications.
Both groups, though, are at a higher risk for a second stroke, and repeat strokes are likely to be more life changing than the first. In fact, those who have had one stroke are 20 percent more likely to have another than the general population. For this reason, it is important to focus on stroke risk factors and mitigate or eliminate them to prevent another brain attack.
Medications are an important part of reducing the risk of a second stroke, but some patients tend to rely on them exclusively to cut their risks. Patients feel that if they take a medication to control their blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes, then they are not at risk for second stroke. Thinking this way may be the reason so many stroke victims suffer a second stroke.
When taking a medication, the three major risk factors for stroke – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes – are not as well controlled as they are when lifestyle changes are included. Some medications can decrease cholesterol, but they do not reduce it enough. Likewise, a medication may lower your blood pressure, but this puts you at risk if you miss a dose. The best way to prevent a secondary stroke is to use these medications in conjunction with lifestyle changes.
Diet and exercise are the primary lifestyle changes that can impact your risk for another stroke. Eating heart healthy decreases your risk of cholesterol building up in the blood stream, and following the DASH diet can significantly lower your blood pressure. Of course, diet is extremely important in the control of diabetes, and keeping your blood sugars within normal range can definitely impact your risk for a secondary stroke.
Exercise can help these areas, as well, but many stroke victims are intimidated by the thought of physical exertion. Although physical therapy is a great way to overcome limitations after a stroke, it cannot help you reduce your weight or decrease stroke risk factors. Cardiovascular exercise is important in reducing your risk, and the disabilities following a stroke are rarely a limitation. If you cannot walk with or without the assistance of devices, hand bikes, sitting aerobics, and some weight training are all viable substitutions for traditional aerobic exercise.
Some stroke victims may find that stress reduction techniques are too esoteric. This can keep them from addressing what is sometimes a vital component of their stroke risk profile. Excess stress can make your blood pressure increase, but it also contributes to an unhealthy environment. Those who are stressed are less likely to eat well or to find time to exercise. Any of these behaviors can lead to increased risk for a secondary stroke.
The techniques for stress reduction are deceptively simple. For instance, meditation is the most commonly recommended technique for stress, and following your breaths is the only instruction that is given. You watch your breath come and go, and when your mind wanders, you return the focus to your breath. Other stress reduction therapies include yoga, acupuncture, and Reiki, and each is known to help stroke victims with their stress levels.
Not only is smoking a cause of strokes, both thrombotic and hemorrhagic, it is a large risk factor in having another stroke. Smoking affects the small blood vessels of the body, and it can cause them to leak or form a clot. When you continue to smoke after a stroke, the small blood vessels continue to sustain damage. This can cause the secondary stroke to be much worse than the initial one, and it this outcome could easily be avoided by eliminating smoking from your lifestyle.
Quitting smoking isn’t easy, and most physicians are aware of the struggles that smokers endure to quit what they know is a bad habit. Nicotine patches are very helpful for quitting and lowering stroke risk, and a prescription medication, called Chantix, has shown great promise in decreasing the compulsion to smoke. Finally, electronic cigarettes are the newest device on the market to curb smoking, but before taking the plunge, it is best to wait for scientific research supporting this method of cutting your secondary stroke risk.