Stroke and Alzheimer’s have the same risk factors
Studies show that anything that helps your heart also helps your brain. That means that developing a heart-healthy lifestyle of eating nutritious, well-balanced meals and getting plenty of exercise will not only lessen the risk of developing heart disease, it will also lower the risk of stroke and dementia disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease.
Hyannis neurologist James McCarthy, MD, sees plenty of patients with both strokes and dementia. The risk factors for Alzheimer’s are the same risk factors for having a stroke, and not coincidentally, they are also the same risk factors for heart disease, he said.
To help people remember the risk factors, he used a pneumonic device.
- A is age, “If you live to be 70, one in ten people get dementia. If you live to be 80, one in five people will be demented. If you live to be 90, it’s one in two. If you live to be 100, it’s 3 out of four, so it’s clearly age related,” Dr. McCathy said.
- A is also for apnea. Sleep deprivation definitely plays a role in both strokes and dementia, he said.
- B is for blood pressure. High blood pressure is bad for your brain and your heart, and one of the highest risk factors for both stroke and heart attack. Chronic high blood pressure damages arteries so they are at a greater risk to burst or form a clot. According to the American Stroke Association, more than 75 percent of American who have strokes have high blood pressure. The new guidelines are to keep your blood pressure at 120/80 or lower.
- C is also for carotid artery disease. The carotid arteries supply blood to the brain. If they become narrow due to a buildup of plaque, they can become blocked by a blood clot, leading to a stroke.
- D is for diabetes. Having diabetes significantly increases [pdf] the risk of both stroke and Alzheimer’s. People with diabetes tend to have too much glucose in their blood, which eventually leads to increased fatty deposits or blood clots.
- E stands for both emotional stress and exercise. Chronic stress has been shown to significantly increase the risk of stroke. Regular exercise can reduce stress, and it also lowers blood pressure, resting heart rate and cholesterol, and reduces the risks and severity of diabetes – all of which are implicated in strokes. ”Regular physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain,” Dr. McCarthy said. “It keeps your weight down. It keeps your blood sugar down, and those are all good things for your brain.”
- G is for gender. More women are diagnosed with strokes and Alzheimer’s than men.
- H is for history of stroke. People who have already had one stroke are at a much higher risk of having another stroke, he said. It’s also important to recognize the warning signs of transient ischemic attacks, which are called warning strokes. TIA’s produce stroke-like symptoms, such as a droopy face, arm weakness, speech difficulty, dizziness or numbness. These are important signs that you need to call 9-11 immediately before an actual stroke occurs, Dr. McCarthy emphasized.
- I stands for inflammation. A history of chronic inflammation with diseases like gingivitis, bronchitis, psoriasis and gastritis are risks, but so is systematic inflammation caused by lifestyle choices. An unhealthy diet and excess body weight cause inflammation which then causes a buildup of plaque in your arteries, he said. If the plaque blocks an artery to the brain, a stroke is the result. If it blocks an artery to your heart, it can lead to a heart attack.
“If you work on all those risk factors we may be able to at least reduce the incidence of these diseases,” Dr. McCarthy said. “In the case of Alzheimer’s, we can’t cure it, but maybe we can delay it for a few years. That would be a pretty good thing.”