Health Beat

Health Beat: 9 ways to prevent a stroke

LOS ANGELES - Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke, but the good news is you can lower your risk. The first step: Don't light up.

"I think the important thing to do is stop smoking," said Dr. Raj Makkar, the director of the interventional cardiology and cath lab at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, California.

Smoking thickens blood and increases the amount of plaque buildup in your arteries, but within two to five years of quitting, your stroke risk can fall to that of a nonsmoker.

Next, keep blood pressure less than 120 over 80. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can quadruple your risk of stroke. To keep it low, limit salt to no more than half a teaspoon a day, eat a healthy diet, and exercise at least five days a week.

If you're overweight, losing as few as 10 pounds can impact your stroke risk. Aim to keep your body mass index at 25 or less. Also, you can drink alcohol but only in moderation. Studies show if you have about one glass a day, your stroke risk is lower. Lastly, treat any other health problems you have.

"If you have other risk factors such as diabetes, you should go ahead and take care of those other risk factors," Makkar said.

Take all of your prescribed medication and let your doctor know if your symptoms worsen. These are simple steps that could prevent a stroke from happening to you.

One myth about strokes is that they only occur in older people. In fact, about one-third of stroke patients are between ages 20 and 64. Even babies can have strokes, and sometimes it is before they're born.

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