When a stroke occurs, your blood supply is cut off from your brain, and you’re in a race against the clock before brain cells begin to die. For some stroke victims, especially those who don’t receive medical attention in time, this can lead to brain damage and other serious complications. This sudden medical emergency is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., and one American has a stroke every 40 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, the statistics on the frequency of strokes are not currently looking up, the CDC warns.
“After decades of decline, progress has slowed in preventing stroke deaths,” the organization explains. “Almost 800,000 people have a stroke each year, more than 140,000 die and many survivors face disability.” But there’s one major silver lining to their grim statistics. The CDC also shares that these deaths are largely avoidable: “about 80 percent of strokes are preventable,” the health authority states.
That’s exactly why CDC experts have shared an important national initiative, Million Hearts 2022, which they say could help prevent up to one million heart attacks and strokes in five years’ time. Using “a small set of evidence-based priorities and targets that can improve cardiovascular health for all,” they’re recommending a four-pronged plan to stopping strokes—and they’re calling it the “ABCS.” Read on to find out which four simple steps you should take now to slash your own stroke risk by 80 percent. They might just save your life.
The “A” in the “ABCS” is for “aspirin,” the CDC explains, and taking it daily may help lower your risk of stroke. The health authority recommends first talking to your doctor about your personal and family health history to determine whether a daily regimen of aspirin would be beneficial.
Your doctor may be more likely to recommend daily aspirin if you fall within a certain age range and meet certain health criteria. “The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends daily aspirin therapy if you’re age 50 to 59, you’re not at increased bleeding risk, and you have an increased risk of heart attack or stroke of 10 percent or greater over the next 10 years,” the Mayo Clinic adds.
However, the CDC warns that you should not take aspirin in response to possible stroke symptoms. “It can make some types of stroke worse,” the organization explains.
“B” is for blood pressure—and this one is crucial. “High blood pressure is the single most important treatable risk factor for stroke,” explains the CDC. “Preventing, diagnosing and controlling it through lifestyle changes and medicine is critical to reducing strokes,” their experts add.
The Mayo Clinic says that besides taking medication for hypertension, you may be able to lower your blood pressure using lifestyle changes. These include losing extra weight, committing to exercise, eating a healthy diet, reducing your sodium intake, limiting your alcohol and caffeine consumption, and reducing your stress levels. They also recommend monitoring your blood pressure at home.
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“C” is for cholesterol—and the CDC says it’s important that you keep your levels under control. “Your body needs cholesterol, but when you have too much, it can build up in your arteries and cause heart disease,” the organization explains.
The CDC notes that the two types of cholesterol your body produces—LDL and HDL—are not created equal. “One type is ‘good’ and can protect you from heart disease, but another type is ‘bad’ and can increase your risk. Talk to your health care professional about cholesterol and how to lower your bad cholesterol if it’s too high,” they recommend.
Finally, “S” is for “smoking.” We all know that smoking can wreak havoc on your health—but fewer people know that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in America. Not only does it increase your risk of cancer, pulmonary disease, asthma, diabetes, and more, it can also significantly boost your risk of hypertension, ultimately leading to heart attack or stroke.
It’s also known to cause thickening of the blood vessels, lower your “good” cholesterol, raise your triglyceride levels, and cause a buildup of fatty plaque in your blood vessels. These are all considered risk factors which make a stroke more likely. Even exposure to secondhand smoke can raise your chances of a stroke by 20 to 30 percent, the CDC says.
If you currently smoke, quitting can help lower stroke risk for you and those in your household. If you don’t currently smoke, the answer is even more simple, the CDC says: don’t ever start.