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7 Steps for Lowering Your Risk of Having a Stroke

Tim Boyer's picture
Lowering risk of stroke

In a recent study published in the medical journal Stroke, researchers from the American Heart Association developed a "Life's Simple 7" as a research-based risk assessment guide for lowering the risk of having a stroke using data gleaned from white and black Americans.

According to health officials, stroke is the No. 4 cause of death in the U.S., killing one American every 4 minutes each year―a problem that is especially a concern for blacks, who have almost twice the stroke-related mortality rate in comparison to whites.

The study was a review of information provided by 22,914 black and white Americans age 45 and older who participated in a population-based study titled “Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke” (REGARDS). The data consisted of telephone interviews, self-administered questionnaires and in-home examinations as well as periodic follow-ups and medical record reviews to identify incidences of stroke among the participants during the 5-year study period.

Life’s Simple 7 consists of 7 stroke-related health factors that include:

1. Blood pressure―manage it
2. Cholesterol―control it
3. Glucose―reduce blood sugar
4. Body mass index―lose weight
5. Smoking―stop it
6. Physical activity―get active
7. Diet―lose weight

For each of the factors, the participants individually were rated on a scale of 0-2. A score of 0 is rated as poor; a score of 1 is rated as intermediate; and a score of 2 is rated as ideal. Overall combined Life’s Simple 7 scores of 0-4, 5-9 and 10-14 were categorized as being inadequate, average and optimum respectively, regarding overall cardiovascular health.

During the study, among the 22,914 participants there were 432 strokes. Using statistical analysis to number crunch the mortality incidence with the LS7 scores, what the researchers found was that:

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• Both blacks and whites achieved a similar reduction in stroke risk based on an improvement in their LS7 score.

• For every one-point increase in LS7 score, an individual’s stoke risk decreased 8%.

• Comparing those categorized as inadequate with those who categorized as optimum, individuals with an optimum score rating had a 48% lower risk of stroke.

• Comparing those categorized as average with those who categorized as optimum, individuals with an optimum score rating had a 27% lower risk of stroke.

Although all 7 factors play a strong role towards the risk of having a stroke, controlling and maintaining your blood pressure near the ideal with a systolic less than 120 and a diastolic less than 80, provides the most protection against having stroke.

“Compared to those with poor blood pressure status, those who were ideal had a 60 percent lower risk of future stroke,” says Mary Cushman, M.D., M.Sc., senior author of the study and professor of medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

To learn how you rate on the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 assessment, click onto their MyLife webpage and follow the assessment test prompts.

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket

Reference: “Life’s Simple 7 and Risk of Incident Stroke: The Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke Study” STROKE American Heart Association 111.000352, published online before print June 6, 2013; Ambar Kulshreshtha, MD, MPH, et al.