May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and when it comes to the prevention of stroke and heart disease, we all know what we need to do. But we don’t always know why. And not knowing why or how important our lifestyle decisions are in staying healthy can lead us to not following through with the potentially life-saving adjustments we need to make.
We spoke to an expert with Memorial Medical Center’s Stroke Center about the most common risk factors for strokes and just why we need to keep them under control.
Most of us know excessive sodium is bad for us, but many of us have no idea what makes it so dangerous or even how prevalent it is in the common foods we eat.
“The danger in sodium lies in its ability to hold excess fluid in the body, or that bloating sensation we all experience after eating a particularly salty meal,” said Amanda Conn, Memorial Stroke Center program coordinator. “This excess fluid can lead to an increase in blood pressure and added strain on the heart.”
According to the American Heart Association, more than 75 percent of the sodium consumed by Americans comes from processed foods, which use sodium for flavor and freshness and can cause us to consume more than twice the recommended daily amount.
The link between diabetes and stroke stems from the negative health issues, or comorbidities, associated with the disease, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and high cholesterol. High blood pressure and heart disease are both major risk factors for stroke. High cholesterol can block blood flow to the brain, which causes an increase in stroke risk as well.
“Another risk posed to people with diabetes is that, if you have a stroke, brain damage can be made even more severe if your blood sugar is high,” Conn said. “Blood glucose levels lead to the production of lactic acid and can cause cell death after a stroke.”
Smoking is hazardous to the body in many ways. An increased risk of stroke is just one of the potentially deadly issues that come hand-in-hand with tobacco use. This is because smoking causes a reduction in oxygen in the blood, which can make your heart to increase its output and can lead to clots, as well as artery buildup, blocking blood flow to the brain.
In addition to the challenges posed through blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease, which are all associated with obesity, overweight individuals are also at risk for sleep apnea, which is a risk for stroke itself. Even apart from the associated comorbidities, obesity can lead to an enlarged left side of the heart, which causes an increase in blood pressure and additional strain.
So if you ever wonder why it’s so important to watch what you eat, monitor your weight, quit smoking and get routine checkups, now you know. Take care of yourself—it’s a matter of life and death.
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