Avoid Another Stroke: Take Charge of Your High Blood Pressure
If you’ve had a stroke, it’s important to set goals to lower your risk of having another one — and treating high blood pressure may be the most important one.
High blood pressure makes your heart work harder than it should have to and damages your arteries, according to the American Heart Association. When coupled with a buildup of plaque called atherosclerosis, it can spur even higher blood pressure and cause more harm, possibly leading to another stroke.
About 70% of ischemic stroke survivors have high blood pressure, so most are prescribed blood pressure medicines and lifestyle changes to lower it. Here are some basics that can help you control your high blood pressure and decrease your risk of another stroke.
Take medications as directed
Only one in five new prescriptions are ever filled and of those, only about 50% are taken correctly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Taking the right dose of medicine at the right times each day is essential.
High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because it usually has no apparent symptoms, which might make you forget to take medications or refill prescriptions. But it’s important to stay on track. Try simple tips such as setting reminders or enlisting friends or family members to ask if you’ve taken your medicine. Do whatever works for you to help you take your medicine correctly.
If you have trouble affording your prescriptions or are dealing with unpleasant side effects, talk with your health care provider and your pharmacist. Be open with your health care team so you can work together to find a solution. It can take a few tries to find the right medicine, dosage and timing, but getting your high blood pressure under control is worth it.
Eat well and watch the salt
You’ve probably heard these nutrition basics before, but they’re especially important for stroke survivors. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and don’t forget the low-fat dairy and poultry, fish, legumes, olive oil and nuts. Following this kind of Mediterranean diet, which limits added sugar and red meat, is reasonable for stroke survivors, according to American Heart Association/ American Stroke Association guidelines.
Salt causes your body to retain water, which increases your blood pressure. Some high blood pressure medications (diuretics) help your body get rid of water. Pay attention to your sodium intake and try to keep it around 2,400 milligrams a day or less. Staying under 1,500 mg can lower blood pressure even more. Read nutrition labels carefully, because most sodium comes from processed food, not the salt shaker. And be sure and limit how much alcohol you drink.
Practice physical activity and lose weight
Losing weight can be a challenge even if you haven’t had had a stroke, but it’s recommended for adults with high blood pressure who are overweight or obese. And while a stroke can limit your physical activities, doing aerobic exercise and strength training can improve your ability to do everyday activities and boost your quality of life. It also helps reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
If you can engage in physical activity, aim for three to four sessions of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week — about 40 minutes per session. Moderate exercise such as walking briskly or riding an exercise bike should make you break a sweat or noticeably increase your heart rate. For a vigorous activity, try jogging.
If those things are too difficult, remember that any physical activity is better than none. Try meeting with your physical therapist or cardiac rehab professional for an activity regimen that works for you.
You can also check out this series of videos with exercises for survivors. You can do them prone, while sitting or by standing with assistance, depending on the activity.
Talk with your health care provider to determine how best to work toward your weight loss goals.