Death and disability from a stroke in Sub-Saharan Africa are seven times higher than in developed countries, so it’s important to know effective ways to prevent stroke. Stroke is the leading cause of death from non-communicable diseases in Africa. If you’re lucky to survive, the next few weeks and months are both terrifying and confusing.
A stroke happens when the blood supply to a part of the brain stops. It is a medical emergency. The brain does not store oxygen. When the blood supply is cut off for longer than a few seconds, the brain cannot get needed blood and oxygen. Part of the brain can die, causing brain damage. Immediate medical attention is critical in the first 3 to 4 hours of a stroke to prevent death or permanent disability.
In Nigeria, one-third of people die within the first seven days of a stroke and a little less than half die within six months. More than three-quarters of survivors die within three years. Most stroke survivors (85%) have problems moving, thinking, and talking which may improve in the weeks to months after a stroke. For many, complete recovery never happens and they’re left with permanent disability.
Here are five effective ways you can prevent stroke:
- Know your numbers
High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke. Diabetes and high cholesterol follow closely behind as top causes of stroke. Every adult 35 and older should know some numbers – your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels, weight, and waist size. Knowing these important numbers will let you know what your risk of stroke is and how best to tackle it.
Things that put you at risk of stroke:
- Control blood pressure
The most important thing you can do to prevent stroke is to control your blood pressure. Know what your blood pressure is and if it’s high, partner with your doctor to treat it properly. Regular check-ups with your doctor are critical if your blood pressure is high. Take your blood pressure medicines daily and do not stop unless your doctor advises you to do so.
If you have high blood pressure, it’s advisable to get monthly blood pressure tests from the hospital, health center or clinic. If you can afford it, it’s worth buying a small blood pressure measuring kit from a pharmacy. A pharmacist or nurse can teach you how to take your blood pressure weekly.
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle
It sounds very basic, but it works. Adopting a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly and eating heart-healthy foods is a very efficient way to prevent stroke. Some people can control high blood pressure and diabetes with exercise and healthy eating. Eat less fatty foods, more fresh fruits, and vegetables, whole-grain foods and fish. Reduce the amount of sugar and salt in your diet and drink plenty of water.
At least thirty minutes a day of moderate exercise such as brisk walking has enormous benefits. It improves your heart and blood vessels, increases blood flow to the brain, balances mood, and reduces stress.
- Maintain a healthy weight
Paying attention to waistline and weight is important. The bigger your waistline, the greater your risk is for chronic diseases. Everyone has a healthy weight range based on height. Maintaining your weight within that range will help prevent the conditions that can lead to strokes such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Having the right weight also has the added benefit of making you feel better about yourself.
- Stop smoking and limit alcohol
Avoid tobacco products altogether. Smoking is a leading cause of high blood pressure, throat cancer, and lung cancer. Drinking alcohol excessively affects your body’s ability to process and regulate sugar. Alcohol abuse puts you at significant risk for diabetes and liver disease.
If someone in your family has high blood pressure, or had a stroke or died from one, you’re at higher risk of stroke than the general population. A family history of diabetes or high cholesterol also puts you at high risk. Stoke is a devastating illness and occurs at a younger age in Africans. Begin to take steps now to prevent stroke.