Lower Your Stroke Risk: The Impact of Deferred Care During COVID-19
As the prospect of nearing the end of the COVID-19 pandemic increases with greater numbers being vaccinated, we need to reckon with the long-lasting impact of deferred or canceled medical care that may have occurred during this timeframe.
A study from the Centers for Disease Control found that four in ten Americans delayed or avoided medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Troublingly, the trend was especially prevalent among individuals with underlying health conditions.
May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and a perfect time to take a more active role in managing your health and lifestyle to mitigate stroke risk.
For people with risk factors for stroke, regular communication and check-ins with their doctors are critically important. Deferred care can even further heighten the risk of stroke due to unmanaged medical conditions. While a stroke can be a life-altering event, the risk of stroke can also be greatly reduced by managing risk factors now. Also, evaluation of the carotid arteries in the neck, a common source of preventable stroke, is an easy and painless process that may be indicated in certain patients.
Since many strokes can be prevented, it is important to start or resume managing risk factors now.
Here are six key ways you can lower your risk of stroke:
- Maintain ideal blood pressure: High blood pressure, or hypertension, can double or even quadruple your risk of having a stroke if it’s not properly controlled. Steady observation through doctors’ visits and home monitoring with a blood pressure cuff keeps you informed about your blood pressure. If the blood pressure reading is above your target range it may be time to talk to your doctor and adjust treatment.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise is key to losing weight and lowering blood pressure, both stroke risk mitigation factors, but it’s also valuable on it’s own. In fact, highly active individuals have a 27% lower risk of stroke than people with low activity levels. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise every week. We recommend dividing this into 30-45 minute quality segments 3 to 5 times per week.
- Maintain ideal body weight: Obesity can significantly increase your risk of suffering a stroke, and even losing a few pounds can reduce your risk. A healthy weight comes through a combination of a balanced diet – appropriate amount and quality of calories consumed – and regular exercise. Weight loss is not easy and may take the help of a healthcare professional, but it starts with a personal commitment.
- Alcohol consumption in moderation, if at all: Some studies show that a single drink of alcohol a day may reduce the risk of stroke. However, two or more alcoholic drinks per day causes a sharp increase in stroke risk.
- Treat diabetes: Patients with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have a stroke, as high blood sugar can damage blood vessels over time. Monitoring blood sugar and managing it through diet, exercise, and medication is key to lowering stroke risk.
- Stop smoking: Smoking puts chemicals into the body that can damage arteries or cause blood clots. These blood vessels can shut down or a blood clot can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Talk to your doctor about putting together a plan to quit smoking and use smoking cessation aids to improve your chances of quitting.
Carotid artery plaque in the neck is a significant but preventable cause of stroke. Patients with the risk factors listed above such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity can develop plaque buildup in the neck arteries. This plaque can either block the carotid artery from delivering blood to the brain or a piece of the plaque can break off and travel to the brain. Either of these situations can cause a disabling stroke or even blindness in one eye.
If there are risk factors like those listed above, it is important to check the carotid arteries for plaque with a simple painless test and a visit to a vascular surgeon. The proper treatment for the plaque can be determined by evaluating the risk factors and the test results. Treatment may involve simply managing the risk factors, or it may involve a doctor adding aspirin, cholesterol-lowering pills or other medications. Sometimes, the plaque needs to be preemptively removed to reduce the risk of stroke. There are several techniques that can be performed to remove the plaque and a vascular surgeon is specifically trained to offer all of the options and customize it to each individual patient.
There are simple ways you can further protect yourself and reduce risk.
- Diagnose your stroke risk: A painless and noninvasive test called a carotid ultrasound can be used to assess the amount of plaque buildup in your carotid arteries and determine whether further preventive treatment is warranted. Just a few minutes spent on this test can save a life.
- Preemptive treatment: If it’s found to be warranted, there are procedures that can help further reduce risk. Carotid stenting or transcarotid artery revascularization (TCAR) are minimally invasive procedures that can remove or treat plaque in the neck, but occasionally the best treatment remains an open surgical repair to clean out the artery and remove plaque. These procedures can be incredibly effective, often reducing the risk of stroke back down to levels similar to the general population. To find out the best plan for you and evaluate your needs, speak with a qualified vascular surgeon.
At PVA, we are firmly committed to stroke prevention. To learn more about how to prevent a stroke visit https://pvasatx.com/ or call (210) 237-4444 to make an appointment with a vascular surgeon.