People can significantly reduce their risk of suffering a stroke by making small changes to their lifestyle, a new study has shown.
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, depriving it of oxygen. As a result, some of the brain cells die and others are damaged. Every year, some 10,000 people in Ireland suffer a stroke and 2,000 people die as a result. Thousands more are left with stroke-related disabilities.
US scientists set out to assess the risk of stroke using seven factors which are known to benefit the health of the heart - being physically active, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling cholesterol, managing blood pressure, controlling blood sugar and not smoking.
The seven heart factors were divided into three groups, depending on how well people managed to maintain them. The study involved almost 23,000 people aged 45 and older. The groups were:
-Inadequate (up to four points)
-Average (five to nine points)
-Optimum cardiovascular health (10 to 14 points).
"We used the assessment tool to look at stroke risk and found that small differences in health status were associated with large reductions in stroke risk," the scientists from the University of Vermont explained.
In fact, they found that every one-point increase in scores was associated with an 8% reduced risk of stroke.
Furthermore, those with optimum scores had a 48% reduced risk of suffering a stroke compared to those with inadequate scores. Even those with average scores had a 27% reduced risk of suffering a stroke.
The participants were monitored for five years and during that time, almost 500 strokes occurred. While all seven heart factors played a role in predicting the risk for stroke, the biggest indicator of risk related to blood pressure.
"Compared to those with poor blood pressure status, those who were ideal had a 60% lower risk of future stroke," the scientists explained.
They also noted that non-smokers and people who had quit smoking more than 12 months before the beginning of the study had a 40% reduced risk of suffering a stroke.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, Stroke.