Ask the pharmacist: knowing and reducing your risk for stroke

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Oct 29, 2013 (3 years and 9 months ago)

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Ask the pharmacist: knowing and reducing your risk for stroke

You can help protect yourself from stroke. That’s good news, considering that, each year,
there are more than 700,000 new strokes in the United States. Stroke is the third leading
cause of death in America after heart disease and cancer.
1


Strokes happen when blood flow to your brain stops. Within minutes, brain cells begin to
die. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65. And the risk
of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55.
2
Stroke damage in
the brain can affect the entire body—resulting in mild-to-severe disabilities. These
include paralysis, problems with thinking, problems with speaking and emotional
problems.

More than half of total stroke deaths occur in women. At all ages, more women than men
die of stroke. Pregnancy and the use of birth control pills pose special stroke risks for
women.
3


It’s important to know the risk factors—some of which are preventable and controllable:

High blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure
is the number one controllable risk factor for stroke
4
. Family history and obesity
influence your risk of developing high blood pressure. Women who take birth control
pills or have reached menopause are at slightly higher risk. A healthy lifestyle helps, but
for many, preventive medications are required.

Cholesterol. High levels of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol raise the
risk of heart disease and stroke. High levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL)
cholesterol lower it.

Diabetes. Diabetes is associated with high blood pressure and interferes with the ability
to break down clots, increasing the risk of ischemic stroke (a stroke caused by a blood
clot that blocks a blood vessel in the brain). Lifestyle modifications and medications,
such as statins and aspirin, can help.

Poor diet and lack of exercise. Thirty minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical
activity can help prevent heart and blood vessel disease and help control blood
cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. It can also lower blood pressure. People with excess
body fat—especially around the waist—are more likely to develop heart disease and
stroke. Eat healthy foods low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

Smoking and alcohol consumption. Smokers and those exposed to smoke daily are at a
greater risk for stroke. Excessive alcohol intake can contribute to high blood pressure. If
you have high blood pressure, either avoid alcohol or drink it in moderation. Moderate
drinking is two drinks a day if you’re a man younger than age 65 or one drink a day if
you’re a woman or older than age 65. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces
of wine, or 1 ounce of 100-proof whiskey.
5


It’s also important to recognize the symptoms of stroke so that many of the serious side
effects can be avoided.

Stroke symptoms can include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg,
especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion; sudden trouble speaking or
understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden difficulty walking;
dizziness; loss of balance or coordination or a sudden, severe headache with no known
cause. Should you encounter any of these symptoms seek help immediately. Time is of
the essence when it comes to preventing debilitating and long-lasting effects.

If you take medication to prevent or treat stroke, a cardiovascular specialist pharmacist
can help. Cardiovascular Specialist Pharmacists are specifically trained in the
medications to treat stroke and heart disease. Available 24/7, these specialist pharmacists
will answer any questions you have about the medications you take for preventing or
treating stroke and help you to manage this serious condition. Specialist pharmacists can
also review your medical history and suggest ways you can save money on your
prescriptions. For more information on specialist pharmacists, call the number on the
back of your prescription drug identification card.

For more information about strokes and cardiac conditions, visit www.medco.com/health
.


1
About Stroke, National Institute of Neurological disorders and Stroke. Available at:
http://nihseniorhealth.gov/stroke/aboutstroke/01.html
2
About Stroke, National Institute of Neurological disorders and Stroke. Available at:
http://nihseniorhealth.gov/stroke/aboutstroke/01.html
3
Stroke Risk Factors, American Heart Association. Available at:
http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=9217.
4
Stroke Risk Factors, American Heart Association. Available at:
http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=9217.

5

Mayo Clinic.com, “Alcohol: Does it affect blood pressure?” Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/blood-
pressure/AN00318.