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Good news: Simple health changes do reduce stroke risk

Staff Reports | News Center | December 6, 2013

Zumba class MUSC Wellness CenterExercise, controlling blood pressure, quitting smoking and faster treatment contribute to fall in stroke deaths in past few decades according to MUSC-AHA led study showing stroke deaths are on the decline.

Sometimes behaviors not only feel like the right things to do, they are proven to be the right things.

In an exhaustive review of stroke mortality and treatment in the U.S., led by the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA), researchers determined that stroke deaths dramatically declined in recent decades due to improved treatment and prevention.

A scientific statement published in the AHA/ASA journal Stroke provides further documentation that people can make changes to better manage and reduce their stroke risk. AHA/ASA commissioned the paper to discuss reasons that stroke dropped from the third to fourth leading cause of death.

“The decline in stroke deaths is one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th and 21st centuries,” said Daniel T. Lackland, Dr. P.H., chair of the statement writing committee and MUSC professor of epidemiology. “The decline is real, not a statistical fluke or the result of more people dying of lung disease, the third leading cause of death.”

Lackland credited public health efforts including lowering blood pressure and hypertension control that started in the 1970s as contributing to the change in mortality, as well as smoking cessation programs, and improved control of diabetes and abnormal cholesterol levels. Improvement in acute stroke care and treatment is associated with lower death rates.

“We can’t attribute these positive changes to any one or two specific actions or factors as many different prevention and treatment strategies had a positive impact,” Lackland said. “Policymakers now have evidence that the money spent on stroke research and programs aimed at stroke prevention and treatment has been spent wisely and lives have been saved.”

Lackland applauded the general public for efforts made to prevent strokes by addressing risk factors as simple as eating less salt to quitting smoking. These efforts largely contributed to stroke deaths dropping in men and women of all racial and ethnic groups and ages, he said.

“Although all groups showed improvement, there are still great racial and geographic disparities with stroke risks as well many people having strokes at young ages,” Lackland said. “We need to keep doing what works and to better target these programs to groups at higher risk.”

William Moran, M.D., director of the Division of General Internal Medicine & Geriatrics, sees this firsthand in his practice. He’s glad to see the study confirm the importance of making healthy lifestyle changes and how paying attention to getting enough exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and controlling medical risk factors such as blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, is worth taking the time to do.

“This study shows wonderful progress in reducing stroke and resulting disability or death. We need to maintain momentum, and view these healthy behavior changes not as a burden or a diet, but as essential lifelong changes to achieve a long healthy life for yourself and especially your family.”




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