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"Knowledge is power," said Dr. Natalia Rost, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. "If you know that a particular risk factor is sabotaging your health and predisposing you to a higher risk of stroke, you can take steps to alleviate the effects of that risk."
Two leading contributors to stroke are age and family history, which can't be controlled, but factors such as blood pressure and lifestyle behaviors are modifiable, Rost said in a Harvard news release.
Stroke -- sometimes called a brain attack -- occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted.
In the June issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch, Rost suggested the following ways to reduce stroke risk:
- Manage your blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure doubles or even quadruples stroke risk. Monitoring blood pressure and treating high blood pressure is an important way to prevent stroke.
- Watch your weight. Obesity and the complications linked to it -- such as high blood pressure and diabetes -- boost the risk of having a stroke. For overweight people, losing as little as 10 pounds can reduce stroke risk.
- Be active. Exercise helps control weight and blood pressure, and is also an independent reducer of stroke risk. One study found that women who walked three hours a week were less likely to have a stroke than women who didn't walk.
- Take baby aspirin. The Women's Health Initiative study found that women over age 65 who took a daily baby aspirin lowered their stroke risk. Aspirin helps reduce stroke risk by preventing blood clots from forming. But if you're considering daily aspirin use, talk to your doctor first.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Harvard Medical School, news release, June 20, 2013