The CSRA is centrally located in the buckle of the Stroke Belt, a wide swath covering eight states - Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina and Tennessee - where the risk of having a stroke, and dying from stroke, is 40 percent higher than anywhere else in the U.S.
During American Stroke Month in May, much of the focus is on preventing primary stroke. But many don't realize that once a person has had a stroke, their risk for a secondary stroke is increased.
That's because the underlying conditions - often lifestyle-based - that caused the first stroke are still present. And unless patients and families commit to making specific lifestyle changes, the risk for a second stroke can increase by more than 40 percent.
Three-quarters of a million Americans experience strokes every year, and one in four will have a second stroke in their lifetime. Sadly, secondary strokes can cause greater disability and have a higher rate of death because the parts of the brain injured during the primary stroke are not as resilient.
Walton Rehabilitation Health System and the National Stroke Association are working to educate the public about life after stroke. Along with focused rehabilitation, one of the most important things a person can do post-stroke is to learn how to reduce the risk of having a second stroke. And these are often the same changes a person can make to help prevent a stroke in the first place.
While there are certain risk factors that can't be changed - including your age, your race, heredity and the fact that you have already had a stroke - there are many more risk factors that can be, such as high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, heavy alcohol use and high cholesterol. Taking steps to eliminate these risk factors can make a huge impact on your likelihood of having a second stroke.
Stop smoking. If you smoke, dedicate yourself to finding the right way to help yourself quit. Smoking is directly related to your risk of stroke because it causes the arteries to narrow, makes your blood more likely to clot and increases your blood pressure.
Exercise. Moderate physical activity - at least 30 minutes, three or four times a week, once your doctor says you are able - helps raise "good" cholesterol, keeps your arteries flexible and helps manage diabetes. Activity can be as simple as a good walk or riding a bike.
Enjoy a healthy diet. A diet low in fat and cholesterol will help prevent build-up in your arteries. Aim for less than 200 mg of cholesterol a day. Adding high-fiber foods like oatmeal, dried beans and fruits will also help lower cholesterol.
Drink in moderation. If you drink, limit the number of alcoholic beverages you drink daily.
Work closely with your doctor. Your physician may recommend specific treatments and medications to help reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol and keep blood flowing. If you have diabetes, your physician may recommend that you take insulin along with diet and exercise. In all cases, it's important that you take your medicine as directed by your doctor, even if you feel fine.
Remember the warning signs of stroke, which include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
If you or someone you know may be having a stroke, call 911 immediately or get to the hospital as quickly as possible.
During American Stroke Month, many focus on recognizing primary stroke and on treatment, which is a great thing. But it's important to remember that life after stroke just doesn't stop.
Stroke survivors living here in the CSRA, right in the buckle of the Stroke Belt, work hard every day during rehab and therapy to walk, hold a glass, dance, and do all those things that many of us take for granted. Learning about secondary stroke, and how to prevent it, helps ensure that these survivors enjoy a full life, after stroke.
Dr. Fredrick Phillips is a member of the Stroke Team Walton Rehabilitation Health System of Augusta.
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