The statistics say it all: People with diabetes are twice as likely to have a stroke than people who do not have the disease. They also have strokes at a younger age than those without diabetes. And they are more likely to die from stroke. Two out of three people with diabetes will die from a stroke or a heart attack.
The link between diabetes and stroke is clear. But there are ways to reduce your risk of having a stroke.
Diabetes and stroke
The risk for a stroke is strongest for people who have poorly controlled blood sugar levels. Over time, chronic high blood glucose levels can cause deposits of fatty materials to form inside the blood vessel walls. The build-up of these materials can cause the blood vessels to harden and clog. If a blood clot forms in the narrowed blood vessels, it can cause a stroke or heart attack.
Strokes occur when blood flow to your brain is cut short. As a result, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and die. This can cause permanent injury to your brain.
The two types of stroke are:
Ischemic stroke is caused by a blocked blood vessel (blood clot). About 85 percent of stroke victims have this type of stroke.
Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when blood vessels burst and bleed into the brain. High blood pressure can cause blood vessel ruptures. Fifteen percent of strokes are hemorrhagic.
Though most strokes are ischemic, diabetes is often linked to high blood pressure. High blood pressure, in turn, also raises the risk for hemorrhagic stroke as well.
Having a stroke can greatly affect your quality of life. It can cause:
Problems with vision or speech
Change in behavior and personality
Signs of a stroke usually come on suddenly:
Numbness or weakness in your face, arm and/or leg (often only felt on one side of the body)
Trouble speaking or understanding
Dizziness, loss of balance or difficulty walking
Trouble seeing, in one or both eyes
Call 9-1-1 right awayif you have any symptoms of a stroke.
Who’s at risk?
All people with diabetes are at risk for a stroke. Your risk may be greater if you:
Don’t keep your blood sugar levels in check
Have high blood pressure or high cholesterol
Are overweight, especially if the extra weight is carried around your waist (central obesity) instead of your hips
Have a family history of stroke or heart disease
Have previously had a stroke or TIA (mini-stroke)
How to prevent a stroke
You can take steps to lower your stroke risk:
Follow your diabetes care program as directed by your doctor. This will keep your blood sugar levels under control.
Reach or maintain a healthy weight.
Eat a “heart-healthy” diet. Limit foods high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars. Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. Boost your intake of healthy fats by eating nuts, seeds, fish and olive or canola oil.
Get active. Work up to 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Talk to your doctor before you increase your activity level.
Don’t smoke. If you do, quit.
Take your blood pressure, cholesterol and other medications as prescribed.
Talk to your doctor about taking aspirin. Taking low-dose aspirin may help some people cut their risk of stroke and heart disease. It’s not safe for everyone, though.
Get quick treatment for TIA. Signs of TIA are the same as symptoms of stroke. Call 9-1-1 right away if you have symptoms. Many people with TIA eventually have a stroke, so immediate medical care is crucial.