Dec 23, 2021

Interviewer: For patients that have survived a stroke, there could be some worry that they might be at risk for a second stroke.

Dr. Steven Edgley is the Director of Stroke Rehabilitation at University of Utah Health. Dr. Edgley, what can people who have suffered a stroke do to minimize their chances of having another one?

Dr. Edgley: The most robust way to prevent another stroke or heart disease is to control hypertension. If we put these three things into three buckets, controlling hypertension, its own bucket. It's so important. The second bucket is controlling things like cholesterol or diabetes or if you have AFib, which is an abnormal heart rhythm. So these are other medical factors that lead to an increased risk of stroke and heart disease. And so I mentioned three, the three major factors, but everyone should go to their own and primary care physician to outline and identify their personal risk factors.

The third bucket is lifestyle factors. And we can break those into diet, exercise, and what I would call avoidance of smoking, drugs, controlling your alcohol intake, things like that. So lifestyle factors, away from the doctor's office, things that you would do at home.

Interviewer: How do you best control hypertension? Let's go back to that first bucket. Is that diet and exercise? Is that usually some sort of medication?

Dr. Edgley: Both. Usually, medication works best. But diet and exercise play a role in controlling high blood pressure.

Interviewer: Generally, does a stroke, a person who's had their first stroke, do they have the hypertension that would more likely need medications to control as opposed to lifestyle?

Dr. Edgley: Both are truly important. So, certainly, if you have had a stroke due to hypertension, you need to be on some medication for that.

Interviewer: And then the second bucket, cholesterol, diabetes, AFib, or other medical factors you'd be discussing with your primary care physician. Again, is that medication generally to help control those things, or we do know that diet and exercise, again, can control those factors as well?

Dr. Edgley: Yes. So I'm talking about going to your primary care physician and getting on the appropriate medications. And I think of that third bucket, so it does influence a lot of risk factors. But I think of it as its own bucket, diet, exercise, and avoidance of harmful behaviors and substances.

Interviewer: So when we get to that third bucket with lifestyle behaviors, is it more difficult for somebody who's had a stroke to manage and control their diet and exercise? Is that a little bit more of a challenge?

Dr. Edgley: It is. They may have physical impairments that make exercise really difficult. And they may have physical mobility issues that make activity more difficult and leading to the problem of obesity. And so every one of us is on either an upward spiral or a downward spiral. And it's very, very important to, if you are on a downward spiral, to break that cycle. And a downward spiral means, you know, inactivity, leads to overweight, leads to poor muscle strength, leads to more inactivity and down and down we go. And patients can break that cycle, but it's got to be a conscious choice and an active choice.

Interviewer: So in a lot of ways, what you do, which is help stroke survivors with physical rehabilitation, is really important in breaking that downward spiral. I mean, I can speak from my experience, as somebody who has not had a stroke, I know it all comes out of exercise for me. If I'm exercising, then I tend to eat better. I tend to sleep better. I tend to do all those things. And I don't know if that's the case for everybody, but I would imagine that that physical activity component is pretty important.

Dr. Edgley: Yes. And that's true. And what we really try to do, we can't be everywhere for everyone, but we can set them out on a positive course. And so the most important thing is to be on the right uphill track and not a downward track.

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