By Janet Benavente, Colorado State University Extension
greatest asset, good health, is threatened by two sometimes silent
killers, heart disease and stroke, the number one and three causes
of death in the United States. These two diseases share many of the
same risk factors and together are the number one cause of adult disability.
The National Institute of Health (NIH), the Surgeon General of the
United States, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the American
Heart Association (AHA) have set a goal to reduce the death rate from
stroke, so that by 2010 fewer than 20 of every 100,000 U.S. residents
will die from stroke each year. Currently that number 30 of every
Actions toward this goal include preventing the development of risk
factors and improving detection and treatment of risk factors for
heart disease and stroke. But for these to work, people need a greater
understanding of what a stroke is, what stroke risk factors are, and
what stroke warning signs are.
The NIH describes a stroke as a “brain attack” that occurs
when blood circulation to the brain fails. Brain cells die from decreased
blood flow and the lack of oxygen that follows. About eight of ten
strokes are caused by blockage of blood flow. Bleeding in the brain,
or in the spaces surrounding the brain, causes two of every ten strokes.
Stroke risk factors are usually divided into two categories, controllable
and uncontrollable. The uncontrollable risk factors are:
Age - Stroke risk doubles with every decade past age 55.
Gender - Males have a slightly higher stroke risk than women.
History - If parents or grandparents have experienced a stroke this
may increase your risk.
Personal history of diabetes - People with diabetes have a higher
Race - African Americans and Hispanics have a two to three times
higher stroke risk than most other groups.
Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean a person
will have a stroke, but it does suggest the need for following medical
recommendations and paying close attention to lifestyle.
The controllable risks factors related to life style choices are:
Weight - Excess weight strains the circulatory system and increases
likelihood of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
pressure -The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and
CDC define high blood pressure as systolic blood pressure over 140
or diastolic blood pressure over 90. About one in three American
adults are in this category.
High cholesterol and heart disease - High cholesterol increases
risk of heart disease and heart disease increases risk of blockage
of blood vessels.
Tobacco use - A person’s stroke risk is doubled when they
are a smoker.
Alcohol use - More than two drinks a day may increase stroke risk
by three times.
Lifestyle changes and medical intervention can help control disorders
like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol that increase
the risk of stroke. Lifestyle choices that prevent or control diabetes,
high blood pressure and high cholesterol include:
At least fifteen minutes of moderate exercise per day.
Eating more whole grains and five to nine servings of fruits and
Choosing an eating pattern that provides fewer than 30% of total
calories from fat.
Matching food intake with energy output by reducing serving sizes
and increasing exercise.
risk factors related to following medical recommendations are:
strokes or Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)- TIA’s are sometimes
called mini-strokes. They indicate a serious condition that needs
medical attention. One of three people who have TIA’s will
go on to have a stroke. People who have had strokes are ten times
more likely to have another, according to the National Stroke Association.
Atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) -Untreated atrial fibrillation
increases stroke risk by four to five times.
According to the NIH and the National Stroke Association, the signs
of a stroke may vary depending on the side of the brain that is affected
and how severely the brain is injured. Each person may have different
stroke warning signs and often there is no pain. The most common signs
Sudden numbness of the face, arm, or leg
Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding speech
Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
Sudden trouble walking or dizziness
Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Nausea or vomiting
Seek medical help immediately if you or someone you know has any of
these signs, even if they last only a few minutes. Treatment is most
effective when a stroke is recognized quickly. For more information
about stroke risk and stroke prevention talk with your medical provider
and visit www.nhlbi.nih.gov; www.americanheart.org; www.ninds.nih.gov; http://www.health.gov/healthypeople;
For information in Spanish, visit http://www.healthfinder.gov/espanol.
If you are interested in more information about how to make lifestyle
changes related to food, contact your local Colorado State University