5 Ways to prevent a stroke

This month, millions of people are having their blood pressure measured in one of the world’s biggest screening exercises. Sam Wylie-Harris learns how we can all do more to reduce the risks.

A stroke can happen at any age. It’s when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off, and the damage can have different effects, depending on where the blockage occurs.

Most strokes are caused by high blood pressure and May Measurement Month (maymeasure.com) is the perfect time to have yours checked.

High blood pressure affects more than one in four Brits and at least half of all heart attacks and strokes are associated with it.

“Most cases of stroke are caused by hypertension – with more than two in three cases attributable to raised blood pressure,” says Neil Poulter, professor of preventive cardiovascular medicine at Imperial College London and honorary consultant physician at Hammersmith Hospital.

“This is one of the reasons that people should get their blood pressure checked and, if it’s raised, do something about it.

“Improving diet and lifestyle, including reducing salt and alcohol intake, plus losing weight, may be enough to control blood pressure, but if not, several effective blood pressure-lowering tablets are available and very well tolerated.”

Along with recommending regular health checks, the Stroke Association (www.stroke.org.uk) suggests the following ways to lower the risk:

Chances are, you’re twice as likely to die from stroke if you smoke. Smoking damages the arteries and the blood is more likely to clot. Smokers are also more likely to develop high blood pressure, a major risk factor for strokes.

Regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol increases the risk of stroke. Consuming too much alcohol raises your blood pressure and puts a strain on the arteries and heart, which can lead to a stroke. It can also lead to diabetes, atrial fibrillation (causing an irregular and abnormally fast heart rate), excess weight and liver damage.

Being overweight puts you at risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, all of which increase your risk of a stroke. Being overweight increases the chance of having an ischaemic stroke (a type of stroke caused by a clot) by 22%, and if you’re obese, by 64%. And if the extra weight is around the waist, you’re more likely to have high blood pressure and other health problems.

Taking regular exercise can help lower blood pressure and maintain a healthy weight. Just 30 minutes of regular exercise five days a week can halve your risk of having a stroke. In can be a couple of times a day for 10 to 15 minutes, but if you haven’t been active for a while, are aged 40-plus or have a medical condition, seek a doctor’s advice before you start.

There are lots of things we can all do to reduce the risk of stroke, such as eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, cutting down on full-fat milk, cream and cheese, as well as fatty meat and takeaways. Keeping an eye on the amount of salt in your food can make a big difference as well.