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How to reduce your risk of having a stroke

Decrease your likelihood of having a stroke by avoiding these common causes.

By Donna Fleming
Strokes are usually due to a combination of risk factors that have been present for some time. These include having high blood pressure, smoking, being physically inactive, drinking to excess, being overweight, having high cholesterol and eating a diet that is high in fat and salt.
But latest research shows there are a number of other factors that can increase your chances of being stricken by a stroke. Knowing about these can help you to make lifestyle changes or take other action that may help to prevent one.

Not enough vitamin C

An inadequate intake of vitamin C could mean you're more likely to have a stroke, according to a French study.
Low levels of this important vitamin are associated with haemorrhagic strokes, or bleeding in the brain.
Haemorrhagic strokes are less common than ischemic strokes – which occur when a blood vessel is blocked – but they are usually more deadly.
A team at Pontchaillou University Hospital in France found that people deficient in vitamin C had a greater chance of a brain bleed, possibly thanks to the part it plays in lowering blood pressure and keeping blood vessels healthy.
Good sources of the vitamin include oranges, strawberries, peppers and broccoli.

Head injury

Suffering an injury to the head or neck triples the risk of stroke in patients younger than 50. One possible cause is a tear in blood vessels – this can result in clots, which then lead to a stroke.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found that 11 in every 100,000 patients under 50 who were treated in emergency trauma rooms suffered a stroke within four weeks.
These findings are important because they can help make health professionals aware of the risk so patients with tears in blood vessels can be treated with anti-clotting medication.

Change in temperature

People are more likely to have a stroke, and die from it, when there are drastic changes in air temperatures and higher humidity.
Cooler temperatures may trigger strokes because exposure to the cold has effects on the body ranging from increased blood pressure to the constriction of blood vessels. It can also make platelets in the blood more prone to clotting. A wide variation in air temperatures over a short period of time may also have a similar effect, say researchers from the Yale School of Public Health.

Drug use

Snorting cocaine massively increases the risk of a stroke in young adults.
Within a day of inhaling the drug, users are six to seven times more likely to suffer an ischemic stroke, a study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found.
Cocaine is thought to thicken the blood, increasing the risk of a stroke-causing clot.

To reduce the risk...

Women who regularly go for a walk or play a gentle game of tennis can reduce their chance of having a stroke by a fifth. Moderate exercise can also help to offset some of the increased risk due to undergoing hormone replacement therapy. A US study found there was no need to do intense exercise to get health benefits – moderate exercise was just as good and the effects were immediate.

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