Stroke: Prevention better than cure

In Singapore, stroke is the fourth leading cause of mortality. Statistics from the National Neuroscience Institute show that the number of people having strokes is on the rise in Singapore, especially among adults aged 40 to 59 years. Stroke strikes about 8,300 people here every year – around 1 in 3 are under 60 years old.

A stroke occurs when a part of the brain gets damaged due to interruption of its blood supply. The symptoms and signs of a stroke depend on the size and location of the damaged area.

Blood vessels called arteries supply blood to the brain. These arteries may get blocked, causing an “ischaemic stroke” or “infarct”. Less commonly, these arteries may burst, causing a “haemorrhagic stroke” or “brain haemorrhage”.

Depending on the area of brain affected, strokes may cause severe and lasting disabilities, such as weakness or paralysis of one side of the body, difficulty in processing or learning information, or inability to speak normally. These can result in loss of the ability to live independently or even the need for long-term care.

In This Guide

How can I reduce my risk of getting a stroke?

Prevention is better than cure! There are certain risk factors which may increase your chance of getting a stroke. Stroke can be prevented by lowering your risk factors. Some risk factors, such as older age, family history of stroke, cannot be changed.

However, the good news is that 80% of strokes can be prevented by managing your chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and controlling your blood sugar in diabetes to ensure these are in the healthy range.

Here’s how you can reduce your risk of stroke:

1. Stop Smoking

Smoking increases your risk of stroke by 1.5 to 2.5 times. This risk is significantly reduced as soon as you stop smoking, and will be equivalent to that of a non-smoker within five years of stopping. So stop smoking today. See your doctor to discuss strategies or medications which can help you quit, there is help available.

2. Control High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure or (“hypertension”) could double or quadruple your risk of getting a stroke when your blood pressure is uncontrolled and too high.

This chronic disease damages your arteries, causing them to burst or clog more easily. Weakened or blocked arteries in the brain put you at a much higher risk for stroke, which is why managing high blood pressure is critical to reducing your risk of stroke. Your blood pressure should be treated if it is consistently above 140/90 mmHg or 130/85 mmHg for diabetics. High blood pressure usually has no symptoms, so be sure to have it checked on a regular basis, either at home or at your doctor’s office.

In addition to taking medication, you would need to change your lifestyle in order to effectively manage your blood pressure. Eating a healthy diet low in salt and alcohol, and with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein and exercising regularly are some lifestyle measures that can reduce your blood pressure.

3. Control High Blood Sugar Levels (if you have Diabetes)

Adults with diabetes are 1.5 times more likely to have a stroke than people who don’t and are twice as likely to die from heart disease or stroke as people without diabetes.

Diabetes prevents your body from processing food properly as the body is unable to make insulin or use insulin correctly, causing glucose (sugar) to build up in your blood. High glucose levels can damage your blood vessels over time, increasing the chance of stroke.

A healthy diet, getting exercise and taking diabetes medication prescribed by your doctors are crucial in controlling blood sugar levels. People with diabetes would need to monitor their blood sugar levels regularly. These actions will help to ensure that you keep your blood sugar under good control and help lower your risk of stroke.

4. Control High Cholesterol Levels

Too much cholesterol in your blood can cause the build up of fatty deposits inside your arteries, causing narrowing of the blood vessels in your brain. This can result in an ischemic stroke, due to blockage of the blood flow to your vital organs such as the brain.

Reducing your intake of saturated fats, such as in deep fried food, coconut milk, and seafood can lower your cholesterol levels.

If your doctor thinks that you are at a high risk of developing heart disease or stroke he may suggest that you take medication to help reduce your cholesterol as well. Drugs such as statins can lower your cholesterol levels, thus reducing your risk of stroke.

5. Exercise Regularly

Regular physical exercise lowers your risk of stroke and keeps you fit and healthy. Exercise also aids in the prevention and management of diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and reduces your risk of developing obesity. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every week for a healthier you. Find an exercise routine that suits your lifestyle and personality.

Overall, taking your medications regularly and going for regular health screening or check-ups is also part of reducing your risk of stroke and ensuring timely detection of risk factors if they do arise. Remember, prevention is better than cure!

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