According to the CDC, nearly 800,000 Americans experience a stroke every year, and roughly one in four of these cases are second, or recurrent, strokes. In addition, per the National Stroke Association, having a stroke dramatically increases your risk of another one, especially in people ages 65 and older.
The good news is that up to 80 percent of recurrent strokes can be prevented by managing risk factors like high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation (AFib), again according to the National Stroke Association. During May’s National Stroke Awareness Month, it’s important to take the time to learn how to reduce your or your loved one’s risk of recurrent stroke.
The prevalence of recurrent strokes
Within five years of suffering a stroke, your risk of having another one increases by more than 40 percent, according to the CDC. Recurrent strokes are more likely to affect older adults who experience 75 percent of all strokes, says the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. They also have a higher risk of mortality and disability, as the parts of the brain previously injured by the original stroke may not be as resilient.
Recurrent strokes are often caused by risk factors that were present when the previous one occurred. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and diabetes. However, one of the leading causes of stroke people may not know about is AFib.
The role of AFib in stroke risk
AFib is the most common heart arrhythmia and increases your stroke risk by five times. In fact, AFib is present in one out of every five stroke cases, according to the American Heart Association.
The reason AFib is such a potent risk factor is because the upper chambers of the heart (or atria) do not contract properly, allowing blood to pool in a cavity known as the left atrial appendage. The pooled blood can form a clot that travels to your brain’s arteries, interrupting blood flow and leading to a stroke.
Asymptomatic, or “silent,” AFib is particularly dangerous as people don’t know to seek treatment for it. Analysts from the American Heart Association report that screening for silent AFib among adults 65 and older could prevent thousands of strokes worldwide every year.
Steps to prevent second strokes
When it comes to preventing recurrent strokes, the best defense is a good offense. The vast majority can be prevented with diligent monitoring and lifestyle changes. According to the American Heart Association, some of the top ways to help prevent a second stroke include:
· Monitoring your blood pressure
· Controlling your cholesterol
· Keeping your blood sugar down
· Being active
· Eating better
· Losing weight if you need to
· Not smoking
· Keeping alcohol intake under one drink per day for women and two for men
· Considering testing for and treating sleep apnea
· Talking to your doctor about whether aspirin or other medications are right for you
Having a stroke can be a life-altering and difficult experience, but it’s also an opportunity to re-evaluate your lifestyle. By fully understanding your health, you can reduce the risk of recurrent stroke and make changes to improve your overall well-being.
Dr. Anthony Magnano is a Ponte Vedra resident and cardiac electrophysiologist at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside. For more information on Dr. Magnano and his specialty treating atrial fibrillation, visit AfibJax.com.