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 Stroke Feature Story

10 Factors Share Blame for Strokes
Quit smoking, lose weight and eat healthy to knock out most risk

10 Factors Share Blame for Strokes (HealthDay News) -- Just 10 risk factors -- nearly all of which are lifestyle-related -- account for 90 percent of an individual's risk for stroke.

And, five risk factors from the list -- high blood pressure, smoking, abdominal obesity, an unhealthy diet and a lack of physical activity -- are responsible for 80 percent of all stroke risk.

Rounding out the top 10 risk factors are cholesterol levels, diabetes, alcohol intake, stress and depression, and heart disorders, according to research published in The Lancet.

High blood pressure was the most significant of all of the risk factors, accounting for a third of all stroke risk, according to the study.

"It's important that most of the risk factors associated with stroke are modifiable," Dr. Martin J. O'Donnell, an associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Canada and a co-author of the study, told HealthDay. "If they are controlled, it could have a considerable impact on the incidence of stroke."

Signs of a stroke include numbness or paralysis on one side of the face or an arm or a leg, sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes, difficulty talking or understanding others, a sudden and severe headache and trouble standing, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The study was a large international effort that included the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, Ecuador, Germany, India, Iran, Malaysia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Sudan and Uganda.

Data came from 3,000 participants who had experienced stroke. Brain scans taken after the stroke were also made available to the researchers. An equal number of healthy individuals, with no history of stroke and from the same 22 countries, also participated in the study.

"The bottom line is that the risk factors for low- and middle-income countries seem to be pretty similar to those of Western countries," Dr. Larry B. Goldstein, director of the Duke Stroke Center, told HealthDay. "The findings reiterate the importance of attention to lifestyle factors in stroke risk -- diet, smoking, physical activity."

Dr. Jack V. Tu, of the University of Toronto, wrote in an editorial published with the study that the research confirms that high blood pressure "is the leading cause of stroke in developing countries" as well as developed nations. And, he said, the findings point out the need for blood pressure reduction strategies.

O'Donnell agreed, adding that high blood pressure is an especially important risk factor to control because it plays a major role in both types of stroke: ischemic, which is caused by a blockage in a brain blood vessel; and hemorrhagic or bleeding stroke, in which a blood vessel in the brain bursts. Ischemic strokes are far more common.

"Blood pressure is easily measured, and there are lots of treatments," O'Donnell said. Some treatments are very simple, such as reducing salt intake and getting more exercise.

The other risk factors in the top five -- smoking, abdominal obesity, diet and physical activity -- also are treatable. And, again, sometimes the lifestyle modifications could be relatively simple. For example, a higher intake of fish and fruits was associated with a lower risk of stroke, according to the study.

On the Web

To learn more about risk factors for stroke, visit the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Martin J. O'Donnell, M.D., associate professor, medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; Larry B. Goldstein, M.D., director, Duke Stroke Center, Durham, N.C.; June 18, 2010, The Lancet, online; U.S. Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov)

Author: Serena Gordon

Publication Date: July 31, 2011


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