Lower Your Risk of a Stroke

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If you are at high risk of stroke, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are locked into a fate of having a stroke. The most common stroke risk factors are reversible, and you can reduce your chances of having a stroke with medical management and a few simple lifestyle habits.

1. Prevent or Reverse Vascular Disease

Slowly progressive disease of the blood vessels in the brain, the neck or the heart is the root cause of most strokes. When the blood vessels in the brain are damaged, a condition called cerebrovascular disease, this can cause numerous small stroke.

How would you know if you have vascular disease? Most people don’t until the symptoms develop. However, your blood vessels can actually heal and repair if you take the necessary steps to help them recover. These steps include lowering your blood pressure, controlling diabetes, maintaining normal cholesterol levels and not smoking.

2. Control Your Diabetes

Improved diabetes management is one of the most amazing feats of modern medicine. Your primary care physician can determine whether you have diabetes during a routine check-up.

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What if you have diabetes? People living with diabetes run marathons, fly planes, and climb mountains. Poorly controlled diabetes, however, leads to a lifetime of disease and disability and is one of the leading risk factors of stroke

3. Maintain a Healthy Blood Pressure

Too many people do not even know that they have hypertension. Don’t be one of those people. Get your blood pressure checked, and, if it is high, adapt your diet and take the medication prescribed by your doctor to get your blood pressure to a normal range.

Hypertension is a controllable medical condition. But, uncontrolled hypertension damages the inner lining of blood vessels and restricts their elasticity, making them prone to stroke-causing blood clots.

4. Get Medical Attention for Your Heart Disease

Heart disease is a leading cause of large strokes. If you have an irregular heartbeat or if you have heart weakness, valve disease or cardiovascular disease, you need to take the steps to get care for your heart condition.

You most likely would not know if you have any of these heart problems unless you get a physical. Most people who are living with undiagnosed heart disease only notice mild shortness of breath or fatigue and some people with heart disease don’t notice any symptoms until it is almost too late to take care of the problem. Treat yourself to a yearly physical so your doctor can catch problems such as heart disease while it is still early.

5. Discontinue Drugs

Drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine are intensely addictive and notoriously difficult to stop using. However, the use of these potent drugs of abuse can cause a sudden stroke, even if you have already used these drugs without getting sick. Because a stroke is life-threatening and potentially severely disabling, the arduous process of detox and rehab is well worth it.

6. Stop Smoking

No smoker wants to hear this. But the good news is that if you stop smoking, the damaging effects of smoking actually reverse. The longer you wait until you stop smoking, the longer it takes to repair the harmful toll smoking takes on your body. Your blood vessels need to heal after years of injury from smoking. The healing takes time and it can’t start until you stop exposing your body to the harmful toxins of cigarette smoke.

7. Get Your Blood Triglyceride and Cholesterol Levels to Normal

High blood cholesterol and fat such as triglycerides come from 2 sources—through your diet and your body’s own production of fats and cholesterol. Changing your diet is enough to lower those levels for some people, while medication may be necessary for other individuals. Find out if your levels are high and take action to get them to normal. Decreasing your blood levels of cholesterol and trans fat is an achievable goal that cuts your stroke risk.

8. Adopt a Stroke Prevention Diet

It is not completely understood why processed foods can lead to a stroke. But it is known that consuming fish, fresh fruit, and vegetables, protein and fiber can reduce your risk of stroke.

Swapping out fresh foods for packaged junk food is a challenge. Junk food is convenient, doesn’t spoil easily and provides quick satisfaction. So, the only way to switch over to more fresh food is to do so deliberately. Adjust your shopping and your daily habits and learn how popular diets affect your stroke risk.

9. Get Physically Active

If you aren’t one of those people who is always motivated to strive for more and more challenging exercise, you aren’t alone! Overall, people are leading a more sedentary lifestyle than ever before. After all, you can do practically anything without even getting up from your computer or phone. Getting up and getting moving doesn’t have to be hard. Start with some of these simple ways to get started building up a healthy level of physical activity.

10. Manage Your Stress Level

Stress due to your day-to-day life increases your risk of stroke. Reducing stress requires taking action to reduce the cause of stress — a terrible job or a bad relationship. But sometimes, due to the complicated circumstances of life, you may need to work on altering your response to stress if you are in an unchangeable situation.​

Severe stress, the kind that causes PTSD, also increases the chances of having a stroke. No one can change the past, but you can work on preventing your future from being defined by your past.

A Word From Verywell

Stroke risk factors, whether due to inherited physical factors or to harmful lifestyle habits, can be changed to substantially decrease your risk of stroke, which can increase your life by an expected 12 1/2 years.

Stroke risk factors, whether due to inherited physical factors or to harmful lifestyle habits, can be changed to substantially decrease your risk of stroke, which can increase your life by an expected 12 1/2 years.

Understanding Headaches

In This Article

Whether you suffer from a headache disorder or have a loved one who does, you know that a headache or migraine can be a painful, exhausting experience. The good news is that these issues are treatable, usually through a combination of medications and behavioral therapies, like trigger avoidance or lifestyle changes.

By gaining knowledge about your specific headache or migraine type, you are taking a vital first step and being proactive in your health care. Be assured that you can live well with headaches or migraines.


The vast majority of headaches are primary headaches, meaning they develop on their own. The three most common types of primary headaches are:1

  • Tension-type headaches
  • Migraines
  • Cluster headaches

Tension-Type Headaches

Tension-type headaches are the most common type. In fact, experts estimate that nearly 80 percent of people will experience a tension-type headache at some point in their life.2

The experience of a tension-type headache resembles its name. It feels like a tight grip or band around your whole head. The pain is notable, but usually not enough to derail someone’s day.3

Tension-type headaches may cause sensitivity to sound or light, but not both, and do not lead to nausea or vomiting.3Symptoms of Tension-Type Headache


Migraine is another primary headache disorder that is much more debilitating than a tension-type headache. A person with a migraine is usually unable to work or engage in a social activity because of their symptoms.

How Cluster Headaches Are Different

Recurrent, debilitating, and paired with a unique set of symptoms, cluster headaches are a different breed of headache. Learn how the treatment is different, too. START TODAY 

A migraine attack consists of four phases (although not everyone experiences all of them). These four phases include:4

  • Prodrome: Symptoms are subtle and include yawning, fatigue, and food cravings, and start one to two days before the migraine.
  • Aura: About 20 to 30 percent of people with migraines experience auras, which may include a number of reversible neurological symptoms like vision changes (most common), sensory disturbances (like numbness and tingling), and language problems (like difficulty finding words). Each symptom lasts from 20 to 60 minutes.4
  • Headache: The pain of a migraine headache is throbbing (like a drum beating on your brain) and tends to affect one side of the head. The pain lasts for four to 72 hours. During this phase, you may also have nausea and/or vomiting, as well as a sensitivity to sound and light.1
  • Postdrome: Symptoms include irritability, fatigue, anxiety, depression, or scalp tenderness, and can last for hours or even days.5

Signs and Symptoms of Migraines

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are much less common than tension-type headaches and migraines. They are extremely painful, debilitating headaches that can be so severe they are often referred to as “suicide headaches.”1

Cluster headaches cause a stabbing, piercing pain around one eye or temple, and they tend to occur at night. In fact, cluster headaches run like clockwork, often occurring at the same time each night. For this reason, they are also sometimes called “alarm clock headaches.”1An Overview of Cluster Headaches

Other Headache Disorders

Besides these, there are other rare types of primary headache disorders including:

  • Primary stabbing headache: Also called ice pick headache, there is a sharp jabbing sensation, with pain lasting three seconds or less. Often this is felt in the eye or temple area. The pains happen several times a day, without a pattern.6
  • Primary exercise headache: This headache occurs only after physical activity. It is a pulsating headache that lasts less than 48 hours and is felt on both sides of the head.7
  • Primary cough headache: You feel this headache suddenly after coughing, on both sides of the head and usually towards the back of the head. It is usually short in duration from seconds to minutes.8
  • Primary thunderclap headache: This headache is sudden and severe, reaching peak intensity in less than a minute and lasting for five minutes or more. It is described as “the worst headache of your life.” This is often a symptom associated with a ruptured blood vessel in the brain, but it rarely happens without another condition.9
  • Primary headache associated with sexual activity: You may have a headache develop during sex or come on suddenly around the time of orgasm.

Rare Primary Headache Disorders


Headaches are one of the most common medical complaints. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that half to three-quarters of adults between the ages of 18 and 65 have had a headache in the last year. They can affect anyone regardless of age, race, or gender.10

In general, a headache can be caused by stress or maybe the result of a particular medical condition like high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, or anxiety. Here is an overview of the types of headaches and the causes behind them.

Tension Headaches

While experts don’t know exactly what causes tension-type headaches, they believe that these headaches stem from a person’s nerves and not from muscle tightening in the head, neck, or scalp. For that reason, they are no longer called muscle contraction headaches.11

Tension-type headaches have also been referred to as stress headaches because stress is a common trigger. That being said, tension headaches are very real, and not psychological (“in your head”), as may be suggested by the name.11Common Causes and Triggers of Headaches


Migraine is a neurological disorder and much more than just a headache. Researchers don’t quite know what structures and processes are involved but suspect the brainstem, trigeminal nerve, and the brain chemical serotonin. A combination of genetics and environmental factors probably increase your risk of migraine.12 Migraines tend to run in families. Three times more women than men have migraines and they seem to develop at the time a girl begins to menstruate, and change in pattern with hormonal fluctuations, then decrease after menopause.13

People with migraine can often identify triggers that can lead to a migraine attack. The leading triggers are stress, hormone changes in women, alcohol, caffeine, skipping meals, weather changes, sleep disturbances, sensory stimuli (bright light, strong odors, loud sounds), physical exertion, and certain foods.14Causes and Risk Factors of Migraine

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches are headaches that occur as a result of some other condition. For example, people with giant cell arteritis—a blood vessel problem—can develop a headache, one that is centralized in the temple or scalp.

With secondary headaches, there are usually other clues that point to a diagnosis other than simply a headache or migraine. With giant cell arteritis, for example, a person also may report weeks to months of fatigue, body aches, and jaw pain after eating food.15

Other examples of secondary headaches include menstrual migraines, which occur around the time a woman is menstruating (when her estrogen levels fall), and caffeine withdrawal headaches, which occur when a person skips or delays their usual daily caffeine intake. Secondary Causes of Forehead Pain


Headache disorders are diagnosed primarily by physical examination, neurological examination, and health history. A neurologist or headache specialist will first rule out more serious causes for your headache, especially since certain life-threatening medical conditions (like a brain bleed or clot) can mimic these primary headache disorders.

You may have blood and urine tests done to assess your general health and screen for health conditions that might produce headaches as a secondary symptom. If an infection is suspected, you might have a spinal tap. If you have had symptoms of a seizure, your doctor may do an electroencephalogram (EEG). It is less common for imaging to be done, but it might be performed if your doctor thinks there could be a structural cause.

You can expect a series of questions about your symptoms, including the location of the pain, onset, duration, description of the sensation, severity, whether the pain radiates, what makes the pain better or worse, and what other symptoms are associated with the headache.

After ruling out other causes, your doctor then applies criteria created by the International Classification of Headache Disorders to make a diagnosis.16How Headaches Are Diagnosed


When it comes to treating headaches, the options vary based on the diagnosis. For instance, most people with tension-type headaches do not seek treatment from a doctor because over-the-counter medications are generally sufficient.

Meanwhile, migraines are more disabling and often require prescription medication, like a triptan.17 People with chronic tension-type headaches and migraines also usually require a preventive medication to thwart head pain before it begins.

While both over-the-counter and prescription medications can be effective, taking them too frequently can actually lead to a medication overuse headache.

What’s more, it can be challenging, even for a doctor, to tease apart whether your headache is from medication overuse or is part of your original headache disorder.

That’s why it’s important to take headache and migraine medication under the guidance of a physician. Take only the recommended dose no more than 10 to 15 times a month, or as otherwise directed by your doctor.

Some people prefer to avoid medications altogether for their headaches and find that rest, a walk, food, temple massage, or other home remedies can soothe their head pain. These may also be beneficial in conjunction with medication.

Complementary therapies, which are mainly intended to prevent headaches, include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), biofeedbackacupuncture, physical therapy, and relaxation therapy. How Headaches Are Treated


While your headaches may seem unpredictable and out of control because you don’t know when an attack will occur, there are some lifestyle habits you can engage in to regain control. Maintaining a healthy weight, getting daily exercise, and enjoying good nutrition may help. Be good to yourself. Take the time to de-stress and enjoy life.

By keeping a headache diary, you may be able to identify one or more of your headache triggers and avoid them. This will also be useful in appointments with your headache specialist. While there may not be a cure for your headaches or migraines, most people can learn to manage them. Still, you need a plan that works for you. If yours starts to fail you, be sure to get in touch with your doctor.

If you do slip and trigger a headache or migraine (you didn’t get enough sleep or overworked yourself), don’t be hard on yourself—it happens, you are human. Tips for Coping with Headaches

A Word From Verywell

While being diagnosed with a headache disorder or migraine can be overwhelming, there are effective treatments available, and headache and migraine research is constantly evolving. Remain hands-on in your headache health. As always, if you or someone you know struggles with headaches or migraines, seek guidance from a healthcare professional.

Dealing With The Hard Truth Regarding a Loved One’s Health

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A Caregiver’s Acceptance of a Loved One’s Condition Isn’t Giving Up

Dealing with hard facts can help you better face challenges down the road

by Barry J. Jacobs, AARP, August 6, 2019 

A couple embracing outdoors


“Yes, I know she has what you call ‘dementia,’” 75-year-old Sam said, his white-whiskered face set sternly as if challenging me. “But I choose not to focus on that very much.” He added, “Barbara and I have been married for over 50 years and she’s still the same wonderful woman to me.”

His hard look seemed to soften a bit when he mentioned his spouse and the love of his life. I was moved by his sentiment: No matter how much Barbara’s thinking skills had deteriorated over the last few years, the essence of who she was — and even how she was — were still basically the same to him.

Nonetheless, I worried about the two of them. Because Sam was intent on limiting the degree to which their lives were disrupted by her condition, he wouldn’t accept support services, such as home health aides and adult day programs, that are often helpful for patients with dementia. Likewise, because he played down that he was a dementia caregiver, he wouldn’t consider attending education or support groups or asking their adult children and grandchildren to pitch in.

It was as if Sam felt that being loyal to Barbara meant largely ignoring her disease and trying to live as fully as they always had. To his way of thinking, dwelling on dementia’s dire consequences and admitting her limitations would be giving in to it — something no strong, caring husband like him would ever do.

I have met many older spousal caregivers over the years in hospitals, primary care offices and retirement communities who refused to buckle to the reality of a loved one’s condition, be it dementia, Parkinson’s or cancer. It was as if they thought they could keep illness from touching them by rejecting all reminders of it, including educational pamphlets, medical treatments and social supports. It was only when catastrophe struck — a bad fall, sudden confusion, or medical complication and hospitalization — that they’d grudgingly admit, “Yes, my loved one has a bad condition for which we need some help.”

Get help caring for a loved one with dementia with AARP’s Care Guide

Caregivers who can accept the course of a loved one’s illness, learn to contend with its many challenges and then savor the time they still have left with one another are better able to cope with whatever unfolds. How can all caregivers achieve that level of flexibility and adaptation? Here are some ideas.

Positive thinking can be negative: Many caregivers are saddled with the belief that staying continuously positive gives them the best chance of warding off the effects of a care receiver’s illness. They refuse to entertain more negative thoughts (or engage in what’s disparagingly called “stinkin’ thinkin'”) as if they could be potentially harmful. But positivity not based on reality is self-delusion. It prevents caregivers and care receivers from taking necessary steps to face the challenges of caregiving squarely. It maintains short-term happiness at long-term peril.

Negative feelings can be positive: Similarly, some caregivers believe that expressing negative emotions, such as sadness and worry, can increase the stress and guilt felt by care receivers and hurt them, too. But when caregivers are unremittingly upbeat, then their loved ones often feel prohibited from expressing any twinge of sadness or anxiety. That doesn’t make them cheerier; it makes them feel more alone with their conditions and emotions. It is better for caregivers to share their negative feelings with care receivers and consequently draw closer in commiseration.

Accepting isn’t despairing: Despair is defined as the complete absence of hope. But that’s not the usual end result of acceptance. When a caregiver can reflect upon all the ramifications of a loved one’s condition, he is taking command of caregiving to the best of his abilities. He makes decisions based on an awareness of the facts. He meets day-to-day problems by generating solutions that are realistic. That doesn’t lessen hope for living a life of the highest possible quality; it increases it.

Accepting can be cherishing: Living with acceptance that a loved one is declining doesn’t sap enjoyment from time spent together, it intensifies it. There is something about having an awareness of the care receiver’s vulnerability that concentrates the caregiver’s mind and makes time itself more precious. We do our best with eyes fully open. We take in our loved one for as long as we can. Afterward, we cherish them and all we did to try to help them.

Barry J. Jacobs, a clinical psychologist, family therapist and healthcare consultant, is the co-author of the book AARP Meditations for Caregivers (Da Capo, 2016). Follow him on Twitter@drbarryjacobs and on Facebook.