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Stroke Awareness

Put Your Heart Into Preventing a Stroke

Richard Kovacs, MD, FACC

President, American College of Cardiology

In May we observe National Stroke Awareness Month. This year’s focus revolves around prevention tactics and increasing awareness in adults who may not suspect they are at risk. Preexisting heart conditions and lifestyle choices can put a person at higher risk for having a stroke, including modifiable risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking status, lack of physical activity, or high cholesterol. Atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm, can also increase risk for stroke, and may not always be recognized by patients. 

Minutes matter

The good news is that 4 out of 5 strokes can be prevented, thanks to advances in medical care and access to more timely treatment. Time matters most during a stroke, since brain damage can occur in a matter of minutes. Watch for symptoms such as severe headache, trouble speaking, vision changes, loss of balance, or sudden numbness in the face, leg, or arm. If you suspect you or a loved one are having a stroke, calling 911 is the most important thing you can do.

If you are at risk for a stroke, it’s important to take steps to lower that risk. Keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol in a healthy range can reduce risk, along with eating a healthy diet, reducing salt intake, quitting smoking, staying active, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Asprin regimens

It’s long been thought that an aspirin a day can “keep the cardiologist away” by helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes. But newer data has shown that’s not always the case. The American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association’s 2019 Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease Guideline recommends that aspirin regimens should rarely be used to prevent heart attack or stroke in people without heart or blood vessel disease. Aspirin thins the blood to help it flow more easily through your body and reduce the possibility of blood clots forming. However, due to the blood thinning, aspirin can also result in bruising and gastrointestinal bleeding.

If you have already had a heart attack or stroke, taking one aspirin each day is often prescribed to prevent a second, potentially deadly recurrence. In this situation, the benefits can often outweigh the risk of bleeding. If you’re considering changing your medication, be sure to talk with your care team first.

Healthy heart, healthy brain

By adopting healthier choices, you’re doing both your heart and brain a favor. It can be difficult to know where to begin in your health journey, so keep an eye on any modifiable risk factors and set realistic goals for your day-to-day life. By starting a conversation with your care team about how to prioritize healthier living, you’re on your way to building the foundation for a healthy mind and heart.

Richard Kovacs, MD, FACC, President, American College of Cardiology, [email protected]

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