BMN Blog

MAY 15

Approximately every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke and roughly every four minutes someone dies of a stroke. It causes about one in 20 deaths annually – making it the fifth-leading cause of death – and the primary reason for long-term disability. Moreover, Alabama has the second-highest stroke mortality rate in the United States, behind Mississippi, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This high incidence of stroke has earned Alabama a spot in the stroke belt, dubbed so by the medical community.

Data from the CDC dating back 40 years indicates that individuals who are from the stroke belt are twice as likely to experience a stroke throughout their lifetimes as people of the same age who are not from the stroke belt.

If you are from the stroke belt, if you live in the stroke belt or if you have a family history of stroke, that doesn’t mean that you should expect to have a stroke in your lifetime. There are a number of things you can do to reduce your chances of having a stroke, even if you fall into a high risk category, including the following:

Blood pressure

The most important risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure, or hypertension. If left untreated, this condition can damage blood vessels throughout the body, causing them to narrow and clog more easily or weaken them so they could burst, resulting in internal bleeding. When blood vessels in the brain become blocked or break and then leak blood into the brain, brain cells begin to die and the brain is not able to function properly.

In addition to being the leading cause of stroke, high blood pressure can cause several forms of brain damage including dementia and memory loss, heart failure, coronary artery disease, kidney failure and eye blood vessel damage. It has also been linked to sexual dysfunction, bone loss and trouble sleeping.


Smoking is one of the most impactful ways to damage your body and your brain. Smoking leads to serious damage of the blood vessels in your brain and in your heart, which raises your risk of stroke.


Obesity is another stroke risk factor. While weight loss is a challenging lifestyle issue, even a little progress toward a healthy weight can have a substantial impact by reducing your chances of having a stroke.


The southern diet, which often includes fried and processed foods, is a hard to break. However, even small changes in dietary habits can make a big difference. For example, by limiting your intake of fried foods, you reduce your intake of trans fats, which can make a substantial difference in your stroke risk. Substituting some processed foods with fresh fruit and vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants, can help protect your body from damage.


Exercise has been proven to prevent stroke. The key is to initiate some form of physical activity on a regular basis and increase those physical activities over time to reduce your chances of having a stroke.


High stress working situations are associated with increased stroke risk. Job security, long work hours, job stress and unpredictable work schedules can heavily impact your health. Many people are able to lessen stress and improve their quality of life with deliberate attention to stress reduction, including techniques such as relaxation and meditation, as well as spirituality and positive relationships, which have all been proven to reduce the risk of stroke.

In addition to taking proactive steps to help reduce your risk of stroke, it is critical to recognize the signs of stroke and seek emergency medical help right away. Early medical intervention affects patient outcome. The main signs are:

B             Balance – Difficulty balancing

E              Eyes – Experiencing vision loss, or blurry or double vision


F             Face – One side of the face droops or is numb

A             Arms – One arm is weak or numb

S              Speech – Speech is slurred

T              Time – Call 911. Early treatment can save your brain.

Jitendra Sharma, MD is an Interventional Neurologist and he serves as the Stroke Program Director at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center.


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