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May is American Stroke Month

It should perhaps be called American Stroke Awareness and Prevention Month — that might be a bit clearer.  But that’s quibbling.

The point is that stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in this country.  We all know how utterly devastating a stroke can be.  And what’s the most important thing you can do to help lower your risk of stroke?  It’s simple, really: manage your blood pressure.

According to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, many of us do not realize that we are at real risk for high blood pressure.  Here are the top risk factors for this potentially deadly condition:

Family history.  You’ve heard this all before.  If your parents or a sibling or other close relative had (or has) high blood pressure, you are also at risk.  Find out as much as you can about your family’s medical history to see if persistent high blood pressure runs in the family.

Gender.  Men are more likely than women to have high blood pressure up until age 45.  Between the ages of 45 to 50,  and 55 to 64, the risk for high blood pressure is pretty much the same for men and women.  After age 64, women are far more likely than men to have high blood pressure.

Advanced age. As we age, we are at increased risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Inactivity.  Getting regular exercise is the most natural way to lower high blood pressure.  Sitting at your desk or computer, or on the couch watching  too much television,  increases your risk of having the condition.

Too much salt.  The problem with too much salt is that it keeps excess fluid in the body, thereby burdening the heart and increasing the high blood pressure risk.  Keep your daily sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams. Remember that it’s not just the salt you see on food that’s the problem.

Drinking too much alcohol.  Heavy, regular alcohol consumption can cause heart failure, stroke and irregular heartbeats.  It can also lead to a major increase in blood pressure.  If and when you drink alcohol, limit your consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

Being overweight or obese.  Watch your weight.  Even losing just ten or twenty pounds can help lower your blood pressure if you are overweight.

We may not be able to go back and rewrite our family’s medical history, but we most certainly can change things going forward and improve our odds.  Remember, freedom is not necessarily indulging every whim or eating and drinking whatever comes our way, whatever the cost.  Real freedom is health and fitness and self-mastery, not multiple prescriptions for lifestyle ills and endless rounds of expensive medical visits and interventions.  So take charge.   Don’t make it so easy for stroke to have its way.

Special thanks US Department of Health and Human Services and  womenshealth.gov.

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