Once again, South Carolina is number one in something awful. On a per capita basis, more people die of stroke each year in South Carolina than in any other state.
That's the bad news, according to the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association.
The good news is, you can reduce the chances of suffering a stroke with changes in the way you live your daily life.
Stroke is a cardiovascular disease. Just as most heart attacks result from a clot that keeps blood from reaching vital areas of the heart, almost 90 percent of strokes result from a clot that keeps blood from reaching vital areas of the brain.
"Strokes brought on by a blood clot are called ischemic strokes," says Dr. Robert Zurcher, a cardiovascular surgeon with Providence Heart Institute.
"Strokes that are caused by ruptured blood vessels are called hemorrhagic strokes, but we only see those in about 10 or 12 percent of all stroke patients.
"Both cases are very much like a heart attack, in that the portions of the brain or heart that can't get oxygen and nutrients from the blood begin to die," Dr. Zurcher explains. "In the case of a stroke, certain body functions cease as a result, which is why we see people with lingering paralysis or speech and vision problems."
The risk factors for stroke are almost identical to those for heart disease. Some of them – family history and increasing age, for example – are beyond our control.
But there are a number of other risk factors we can control:
High Blood Pressure
You can reduce your blood pressure with changes in your diet and prescription drugs.
You can reduce your cholesterol with changes in your diet, exercise and prescription drugs.
It's a hard habit to break, but quitting can save your life. Nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarettes reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood and damage the walls of your blood vessels, thereby making clots more likely to form.
You can reduce your risk of stroke by exercising vigorously at least 30 minutes a day. If you have any other risk factors in addition to leading a sedentary lifestyle, you should consult your physician before starting to exercise.
You can reduce your risk of stroke by reaching and then maintaining a healthy body weight. If you are obese or significantly overweight, you should consult your physician, of course, before starting any kind of diet.
Treating diseases you might already have – especially heart disease, diabetes and sickle cell disease – can help to minimize your risk for stroke.
About 700,000 Americans will suffer a stroke this year. Nearly a quarter of them will die, making stroke the third largest cause of death in the U.S.