Diabetes can increase your risk for many health conditions, including stroke. In general, people with diabetes are 1.5 times more likely to have a stroke than people without diabetes.
Diabetes affects the body’s ability to create insulin or use it properly. Since insulin plays an important role in pulling glucose into cells from the bloodstream, people with diabetes are often left with too much sugar in their blood. Over time, this excess sugar can contribute to the buildup of clots or fat deposits inside vessels that supply blood to the neck and brain. This process is known as atherosclerosis.
Stroke is a condition in which blood vessels in the brain are damaged. Strokes are characterized by a number of factors, including the size of the damaged blood vessel, where in the brain blood vessels have been damaged, and what event actually caused the damage.
Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke. It occurs when an artery that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the brain is blocked, most often by a blood clot. About 87 percent of strokes are ischemic strokes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when an artery in the brain leaks blood or ruptures. Approximately 15 percent of strokes are hemorrhagic strokes, according to the National Stroke Association. Hemorrhagic strokes can be very serious and are responsible for about 40 percent of stroke-related deaths.
Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
A TIA is sometimes called a ministroke because the blood flow to the brain is blocked for a shorter amount of time and doesn’t result in permanent neurological injury. A TIA is ischemic, and may last from a minute to several hours — until the clogged artery reopens on its own. You shouldn’t ignore it, and you should consider it a warning. People often refer to a TIA as a “warning stroke.”
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a stroke is a crucial first step to getting someone help before it’s too late. In an effort to help people remember how to recognize a stroke, the American Stroke Association endorses the mnemonic FAST, which stands for:
Other symptoms that can signal a stroke include sudden:
- numbness or weakness of the face or the arms and legs, especially if it’s only on one side
- trouble understanding speech
- difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
- a loss of balance or coordination
- trouble walking
- a severe headache for no known reason
If you think you’re experiencing a stroke, call 911 or your local emergency services immediately. A stroke is a life-threatening condition.
Medical risk factors for stroke include:
- high blood pressure
- atrial fibrillation
- blood coagulation problems
- high cholesterol
- sickle cell disease
- circulation problems
- carotid artery disease
- prior history of heart attacks, strokes, or TIA
Your chance of stroke is higher if you have one or more of these medical risk factors.
Lifestyle risk factors include:
- poor diet and nutrition
- not getting enough physical activity
- any tobacco use or smoking
- excess alcohol use
The risk of stroke increases with age, nearly doubling for each decade over the age of 55. Race plays a part in stroke risk as well, with African-Americans having a greater risk of death from stroke than Caucasians. Gender also factors into the equation, with women experiencing more strokes than men. Also, having a stroke, heart attack, or TIA increases your risk of having another stroke.
Certain well-known risk factors for stroke, such as genetics, age, and family history, are outside of your control. You can reduce other risk factors by making certain lifestyle changes.
Take a look at the medical and lifestyle risk factors and ask yourself what you can do to help reduce your risk of stroke.
Change your diet
High blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase your risk of stroke. You might be able to reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels by making changes to your diet. Try the following nutrition tips:
- Lower your intake of salt and fats.
- Eat more fish in place of red meat.
- Eat foods with lower amounts of added sugar.
- Eat more vegetables, beans, and nuts.
- Replace white bread with bread made of whole grains.
Exercising five or more times per week can help reduce your risk of stroke. Any exercise that gets your body moving is good exercise. A daily, brisk walk can lower your risk of stroke and improve your mood in general.
If you smoke, talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs or other things you can do to help you quit smoking. The risk of stroke for people who smoke is double that of people who don’t smoke.
The most effective way to quit smoking is to just stop. If that’s not for you, consider asking your doctor about the various aids that are available to help you kick the habit.
Limit how much alcohol you drink
If you drink alcohol, try to limit your intake to no more than two drinks per day if you’re a man or one drink per day if you’re a woman. Researchers have linked regularly drinking large quantities of alcohol to an increased risk of stroke.
Take your medication as prescribed.
Certain types of medication are especially important for lowering stroke risk. These include blood pressure medications, diabetes medications, cholesterol medications (statins), and medications to prevent blood clots, such as aspirin and blood thinners. If you’ve been prescribed any of these medications, continue taking them as prescribed by your doctor.
Although you’ll never be able to eliminate all of your stroke risks, there are things you can do to reduce certain risk factors and increase your chance of living a long, healthy, stroke-free life. Here are some tips:
- Work with your doctor to manage your diabetes and other stroke risk factors, such as hypertension and high cholesterol.
- Limit your alcohol consumption.
- If you smoke, quit.
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Add regular exercise to your routine.
If you think you’re having a stroke, seek emergency help right away.