Saint Luke’s News: Stopping a Stroke Before it Happens

May 16, 2019
Physician putting blood pressure cuff on patient.


Someone has a stroke every 40 seconds in the United States, according to the CDC. That amounts to more than 795,000 a year.

When a stroke happens, blood stops flowing to part of the brain. This can cause permanent damage to areas of the brain that control other parts of the body or even be deadly. Although stroke risk increases with age, it is not uncommon in young and middle-age adults, as seen with the recent passing of actor Luke Perry and director John Singleton that gained national attention.

However, up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable by making healthy lifestyle changes and working with your doctor.

“It is important to start earlier in life because problems like high blood pressure are cumulative,” said Karin Olds, MD, the stroke medical director for Saint Luke’s Marion Bloch Neuroscience Institute. “The longer your blood pressure runs high, the more damage you do to the vessel walls.”

High blood pressure is one of the most common causes of stroke— it’s also one of the most preventable. One in three American adults have high blood pressure, but only about half of them have it under control, according to the CDC.

“Keep track of your blood pressure and work with your doctor. You have to know what your goals are and the plan to achieve them,”  Dr. Olds said. “Make sure that you’re achieving your blood pressure goal and don’t be afraid to take medicine if it’s needed.”

Another way to reduce your chance of having a stroke is by managing your cholesterol. High cholesterol can lead to clogged arteries and blood clots.

“Eating healthy and exercise is important,” Dr. Olds said. “Diets low in cholesterol, low in fat, lower in sodium levels are best.”

Knowing if you have diabetes and controlling your blood sugar are also key preventative measures.

Over half of the people that we see at Saint Luke’s with strokes are either diabetic or pre-diabetic,” Dr. Olds said. “We do a blood test called a Hemoglobin A1c: there are a lot of folks landing in the pre-diabetic range; that can often be normalized with just diet and exercise, a change in lifestyle.”

Finally, quit smoking or don’t start. Smokers are four times more likely than non-smokers to have a stroke.

Some risk factors can’t be controlled like age, gender, and genetics. But being proactive and learning your family history can help you find the proper preventative strategies with your doctor.

“If you’re from a family that has a lot of high blood pressure and heart disease or strokes, you need to make sure that you’re seeing doctors regularly at a fairly young age,” Dr. Olds said.

The best way to treat a stroke is to prevent it. But if you can’t, seeking immediate care at a designated stroke center is crucial. Every second of a stroke kills 32,000 brain cells.

Saint Luke’s Marion Bloch Neuroscience Institute is a national leader in stroke reversal. We treat more than 1,600 stroke patients each year with the best outcomes in the region. More experience means better outcomes. On average, we restore blood flow to the brain 17 minutes faster than other hospitals, saving more than 32 million brain cells per patient.

Learn more about the causes and warning signs of stroke and our nationally recognized stroke care at Saint Luke’s Marion Bloch Neuroscience Institute

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Karin E Olds, MD

Vascular Neurology, Neurology