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Missourians Can do More to Prevent Strokes

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The stroke rate is too high in Missouri, but health experts say those numbers can come down if more people get their blood pressure under control. (Virginia Carter)
The stroke rate is too high in Missouri, but health experts say those numbers can come down if more people get their blood pressure under control. (Virginia Carter)
 By Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO, Contact
May 31, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - This is the final day of American Stroke Month, but stroke is an ongoing concern in Missouri, where it's the fourth-leading cause of death.

State health experts cite smoking, physical inactivity and obesity as just a few of the health problems Missourians have at higher rates than the national average.

Dr. Randall Edgell, associate professor of vascular and interventional neurology at St. Louis University, says watching your diet and getting enough exercise are keys to taming one of the leading causes of stroke.

"Probably the worst offender is high blood pressure," says Edgell. "Eighty-million Americans have high blood pressure, but almost half of those don't have it well controlled. So, if we could increase the percentage of people who are aware that they have high blood pressure and get their blood pressure under control with medication, we could make a big dent."

Edgell says a healthy diet with less salt and red meat, and more whole grains and vegetables and moderate exercise three to four times a week will reduce most people's stroke risk.

Missouri has a state Heart Disease and Stroke Plan, adopted in 2012, to try to improve health factors and survival rates within this decade.

Nationally, stroke is also a leading cause of death and disability, affecting 800,000 people and taking about 140,000 lives each year, almost 3,000 in Missouri.

And Edgell says even making the recommended lifestyle changes, some people are still going to need help regulating their blood pressure.

"Unfortunately, even when all those things implemented there are going to be people who need a medication to get their blood pressure down. The good news is that now there are a wide variety of medications," says Edgell. "With consistent attention, we can almost always get blood pressure under control."

Edgell says African Americans are twice as likely to have a stroke, and often at an earlier age, than whites.

He says everyone should know the signs of a stroke, signified by the acronym "FAST" - facial drooping, arm weakness or speech difficulties mean it's time to call 9-1-1.

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