Small Steps for Big Stroke-Reducing Payoff

Stroke risk can be lowered through minor changes in cardiovascular health

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D

(RxWiki News) When a stroke strikes, the results can be devastating. Survivors may suffer permanent disabilities. A few simple measures, however, may make a big difference in stroke prevention.

Stroke is not only one of the leading causes of death in the world, it also leaves millions with permanent loss of vision and/or speech, paralysis and/or confusion.

Scientists have found that small improvements in simple cardiovascular risk factors can reduce the chances that a person will suffer a stroke.

They found that any improvement in blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, obesity, physical inactivity and diet produced positive results.

"Improve heart health with exercise and a healthy diet."

Mary Cushman, MD, in the Department of Medicine and Pathology at the University of Vermont in Burlington, and her colleagues from Emory University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, measured the occurrence of stroke in patients in relation to their level of critical risk factors.

Called Life’s Simple 7 (LS7), these health factors are elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, obesity, current smoking, physical inactivity and poor diet. The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association defined these seven critical risk criteria in 2010.

Each patient in the study received an LS7 score for each factor, with 0 meaning poor compliance, 1 for intermediate compliance, and 2 for ideal compliance.

Overall scores were then calculated with 0-4 indicating poor cardiovascular health, 5-9 signaling average health, and 10-14 representing optimal health.

The results showed that an increase in even one point on the overall LS7 scorecard reduced the chances a subject would have a stroke within five years by eight percent. An improvement in one category—for example from average to optimal— reduced those odds of having a stroke by 25 percent.

These benefits affected white and black subjects equally.

“We think, looking at data such as this, that 50 percent to 70 percent of all strokes are preventable just by trying to optimize your health in regard to these seven different items,” said Walter Koroshetz, MD, Deputy Director of National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Participants were all part of an ongoing national study called Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS), which is funded by National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Patients were enrolled between 2003 and 2007.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly interrupted or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into the spaces surrounding brain cells, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Brain cells die when they no longer receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood, or there is sudden bleeding into or around the brain.

The symptoms of a stroke include sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble with walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination; or sudden severe headache with no known cause.

The report was published in June in Stroke, a journal of the American Heart Association.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 7, 2013
Last Updated:
August 12, 2013