One of our most feared medical emergencies is that of stroke.  There are two kinds of stroke - ischemic stroke which occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted by a blocked artery and hemorrhagic stroke which is caused by bleeding in the brain.  About 90% of all strokes are ischemic strokes.  When stroke occurs a number of symptoms may manifest including: numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg which likely will occur on one side of the body, trouble speaking or understanding, loss of balance or coordination, confusion, dizziness, and severe headache.

     Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the leading risk factor for stroke.  High blood presure is defined as 140/90 mmHG or above. In 2011 an analysis of data on more than 500,000 people with pre-hypertension (above normal reading of 120/80 but below 140/90 high reading) found that those with pre-hypertension were 55% more likely to have a stroke in the next five to 10 years of their life than those with normal blood pressure.

     Have you had your blood pressure checked recently?  Many grocery stores and pharmacies have a free blood pressure monitor that you can check for yourself.  Until age 65, you should have your blood pressure checked at your doctor at least every other year.  At age 65 and after, you should have it checked annually. Your ideal blood pressure may vary based on your specific medical profile including cholesterol screening, a blood test for C-reactive protein and perhaps an ECG to evaluate your heart health. 

     If you have pre-hypertension, you and your doctor may discuss healthy lifestyle changes including, eating heart-smart foods, cutting fat, losing weight if you're overweight, cutting back on salt, quitting smoking and exercising for at least 30 minutes daily. Other treatments under doctor's supervision may include: low-dose aspirin therapy with dosages ranging from 80 mg (a baby aspirin) to 325 mg (one adult aspirin), supplements of folate and vitamin B6 which lowers elevated levels of homocysteine, fish oil capsules containing omega-3 fatty acids which act as anticlotting agents, or prescription medications.

     Lifestyle modifications can also help to minimize stress which is often a precursor to pre-hypertension.  Taking a vacation can help relieve stress that can endanger your health.  Researchers found that men ages 35 to 57 who took a yearly vacation were one-third less likely to die from heart disease than those who did not take a vacation.  Controlling anger will also protect you from stroke and heart disease.  A study of 13,000 people found that those who angered quickly were three times as likely to have a heart attack than their more laid-back friends.  Spending time with friends in quiet conversation, taking a walk, saying a prayer, exercising or meditating can all give you that "time out" you need to minimize stress.  Hypnotherapy can be a great tool for dealing with stress and encouraging you to take care of yourself. By using these tools you can bring those numbers down and the risk of heart disease and stroke as well.