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Control Your Cholesterol = Reduce Your Stroke Risk

On average, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds in the United States. Every four minutes, someone dies of stroke.

These are sobering statistics from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association but there are things you can do to lower your risk. One way is to control your cholesterol.

“Ischemic stroke is caused by a blocked blood vessel in the brain, which causes that part of the brain to die,” said Dr. Chirag Shukla, board certified neurologist and director of Capital Health's Outpatient Stroke Program, part of the Capital Institute for Neurosciences. “There are a few ways that blood vessels become blocked. One way is from the build-up of plaque inside the blood vessel. The plaque is made of cholesterol and other lipids that build up over time and eventually block blood from flowing through the blood vessel.”

When the blood flow is blocked, oxygen and nutrients no longer flow to the brain. Without the oxygen and important nutrients carried by blood, that part of the brain begins to die, causing serious disabilities and possibly death.

“Put simply, when your bad cholesterol levels get high, there’s greater risk for your blood vessels to be blocked and you’re at higher risk for stroke,” he said.

Do I have a cholesterol problem?

You can answer this by visiting your primary care doctor and asking him or her to order a blood test called a lipoprotein profile, which measures the cholesterol level in your blood. Too much LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides (a type of fat that is used in your body for energy) may mean you’re at an increased risk for stroke. According to the National Institutes of Health, you want your total cholesterol level to be less than 200 mg/dL.

How do I lower my high cholesterol?

Discuss with your doctor if there are possible risk factors beyond your control, such as age, gender and family history. If these are not an issue for you, here are some controllable risk factors to consider lowering your cholesterol, according to Dr. Shukla.

  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Aim to be physically active for more than 30 minutes a day.
  • Include some of the following fruits in your diet to reduce cholesterol:
    • White grapes
    • Purple grapes
    • Acai berries
    • Pomegranate
    • Bilberries
    • Passion Fruit
    • Wolfberries
    • Blueberries
    • Kiwis
    • Cranberries
    • Apricots
    • Prunes
    • Nashi
    • Aronia
    • Camu Camu
    • Acerola
    • Bananas
    • Pears
    • Lychee

Are there other causes of stroke?

In addition to high cholesterol, here are other risk factors for stroke.

You CAN’T change:

  • Age
  • Family History
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Previous stroke,
  • TIA or heart attack 

You CAN change/treat/control:

  • Heart/Blood Vessel Disease
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Physical Inactivity/Obesity/Poor Diet
  • Cigarette Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Atrial Fibrillation
  • Sickle Cell Disease 

If you suspect a stroke, act F - A - S - T

F — Face Drooping

Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven? 

— Arm Weakness

Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

— Speech Difficulty

Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?

— Time to call 9-1-1

If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.