In the last column we talked about the immediate symptoms and crucial warning signs of a suspected stroke and how best to deal with such an emergency. The reason why this issue is again covered is: 1) the incidence of stroke is at its peak in the winter time, especially when the weather is getting colder. 2) like so many things that just seem to happen prematurely, or faster, in the modern era, what used to be a geriatric disease is becoming a disease that is increasingly affecting the younger population — people in their 50s, 40s, and even their 30s.
A stroke can be deadly, but it is treatable, although there may be sequelae [a pathological condition resulting from a disease or injury] to the event. So it is better to prevent the disease from happening. Although it is a cliché to jot down the common risk factors related to the event, these need to be covered out of necessity.
Although it would be more academic to mention the risk factors in correlation with “hemorrhage - internal bleeding” and “ischemia - that is the blockage of blood passing through,” since this is not a scientific editorial or a journal, I will try to keep it quite simple.
Since the early 1980s the importance of blood pressure has been emphasized. However, if any kind of heart problem exists — such as coronary heart disease, atrial fibrillation to name a few — the risk of getting a stroke is increased irrelevant to the blood pressure level. Hypertension — if diagnosed — must be treated initially with medication, along with regular aerobic exercising and the taking of less salt in the diet.
Although it sounds easy, in reality it is quite difficult to cut down on salt — for instance, a BigMac® would give you half of the total daily salt (2,400mg) needed. Okay you are in Korea. An innocent enough bowl of kimchi stew could give you almost as much salt that is needed daily, and a hot instant noodles? This can also have more sodium than is needed in the daily diet. In just one bowl!
The nutritional facts aren’t as well labeled on the packages but still you can recognize them. (Learn how to read Korean and if you find ‘나트륨’ on the package — that’s natrium, or salt. For comprehensive information on the amount of sodium in products, you can visit www.umext .maine.edu/onlinepubs/PDFpubs/4059.pdf)
Diabetes is another problem and a big risk factor for stroke. Not only does stroke attack the diabetic population at an earlier age, but the mortality rate due to a stroke is higher and the speed of recovery is decreased with people that have the condition.
Besides taking prescription drugs for controlling the body sugar, it is important to eat healthy foods to fill up the calories the body needs. Foods with carbohydrates from fruits and beans, fiber-rich food, healthy fish (cutlass fish and mackerel are plentiful and tasty), “good” fats — such as avocados, almonds, olives, are a fine way to start. Saturated fats (hot dogs, sausages, hamburgers), trans-fats (margarine), cholesterol with other sodium-rich foods are to be avoided. (For an easy to follow diabetes control, see: www.ndep.nih.gov/publications/PublicationDetail.aspx?PubId=4)
Cholesterol is the base ingredient for making membranes and hormones in our body. High cholesterol levels means that there is excess cholesterol in the body which can cause blockages in the arteries. Good cholesterol (dubbed HDL) and bad (LDL and Triglycerides) cholesterol levels can be monitored by a simple blood test. It depends on many factors, but less than 40 mg/dL of HDL, and more than 160mg/dL of LDL means trouble. Proper diet, body weight decrease and a sufficient amount of exercise can improve the cholesterol levels. (For a more thorough look into cholesterol check up: www.nhlbi.nih.gov/chd/)
Obesity is a well known risk factor for heart problems and mortality. It also increases the risk of stroke, though to a lesser extent than high blood pressure and diabetes.
Smoking is bad for so many things inside and out of the body, but to repeat the information one more time; it doubles the risk of a stroke. It damages the blood vessels, it makes the blood stickier, and raises pulse rate and blood pressure. It takes almost 5 years to lower the risk of stroke due to smoking to the level of a non-smoker, but there are a great many benefits that can be reached before then.
Other risk factors that are of worth mentioning are age (the older you are the more likely you are to have a stroke), sex (males tend to have more strokes, and females tend to be more severely ill), the socioeconomic state (the poorer you are the more likely you will have a stroke), physical inactivity, ischemic heart disease, and atrial fibrillation.
It is a boring subject, I know, but it is something we cannot ignore. If you have high blood pressure, or diabetes, or any of the conditions mentioned above, manage it well. If you don’t know what you have, go to an doctor and ask for an examination.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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