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Stroke Prevention Tips

People with diabetes, sickle cell anemia, or sleep apnea are at risk for having a stroke. The American Stroke Council has some guidelines that can help prevent stroke.

Bill Witherspoon is in better health at age 66 than he was in his 50s, when he suffered the first of his three strokes. "My strokes got my attention, telling me that I had to make a change in my life. But I don't understand why I had to wait for a stroke to make that decision."

One decision he made was to exercise regularly. People cannot change certain risk factors -- age, race or family history, but they can change their lifestyles.

The American Stroke Assocation recently updated its guidelines for preventing a first stroke.

The recommendations include using statins to treat diabetes patients. Drugs such as Zocor, Lipitor and others can lower cholesterol.

Dr. Larry Goldstein heads the Stroke Council of the American Heart Association says there is a correlation between blood pressure and diabetics. "We knew for some time that tight control of blood pressure in diabetics decreases their risk of stroke. We now also know that treatment with a certain class of drugs, the lipid lowering drugs -- cholesterol drugs like statins -- can significantly decrease the risk of stroke in diabetics."

Doctors say blacks have a greater risk of stroke than other racial groups.

One of the new guidelines recommends ultrasound screening for children with sickle cell disease, which predominantly affects people of black African descent.

Again, Dr. Goldstein. "We can now identify children with a test called 'the transcranial Doppler', which is a sound picture of the blood vessels of the brain identifying children who may be at increased risk of stroke related to sickle cell. And we now have ways of reducing that risk through transfusion therapy."

Dr. Goldstein says another recommendation concerns people who suffer from sleep apnea -- a common sleep disorder that puts them at increased risk for stroke. "Sleep apnea is associated with high blood pressure and treatment of sleep apnea reduces blood pressure. That alone is an important reason. "

An episode of sleep apnea can cause a person to stop breathing, decreasing the oxygen supply to the brain. Dr. Goldstein says this increases the risk of stroke.

The new guidelines include some well-known prevention measures -- control high blood pressure, do not smoke or allow yourself to be exposed to other people's smoke, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and if you are overweight, lose weight.

Bill Witherspoon lost 75 pounds after having his strokes. "I feel outstanding today, and, yes, I feel that I have done everything that I can do and what the doctors have told me to do to prevent another stroke."

The American Stroke Association also warns people to avoid saturated fats and trans fatty acids. Trans fat raises cholesterol levels. It is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil. It can be found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods.

The group also recommends that people with an irregular heartbeat or other heart problems see their doctors for treatment.