This Symptom Could Predict a Stroke 10 Years Before It Happens, Study Says

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For many people, monitoring your health usually comes out of a concern for a major heart issue. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds—with many going undetected. Fortunately, being aware of certain risk factors can make it easier to address any issues before any medical emergencies arise. And according to a new study, there’s one symptom that could predict a stroke 10 years before it even happens. Read on to see which warning sign you should be on the lookout for.

A rapid mental decline can predict a stroke a decade before it strikes.

A recent large study from Erasmus MC University in the Netherlands published in the Journal Of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry assembled 14,712 participants and tracked them for up to 28 years between 1990 and 2016. At the beginning of the study and every few years thereafter, participants underwent a series of forensic interviews and physical tests that gauged everything from memory, speaking abilities, and reaction times to how well they could handle daily chores such as cleaning, managing personal finances, and cooking.

Over the course of the study, 1,662 of the participants suffered a first stroke at the average age of 80. After matching each person who had a stroke with three participants who did not, comparisons of the forensic and physical tests showed that participants began showing a decline in their mental performance up to a decade before the actual stroke took place.

Certain advanced tasks became more difficult 2 to 3 years before a patient’s first stroke.

Besides a 10-year lead time on cognitive decline, parsing the data showed some other potential warning signs. Results found that differences began to emerge in participants’ abilities to perform basic and advanced daily tasks two to three years before they suffered their stroke.

Data also found that women were also at higher risk, making up 60 percent of patients who suffered a stroke during the study’s data collection. In addition, those who were carriers of the APOE gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and participants with fewer academic credentials were also found to be more likely to suffer a stroke.

The long-lead warning signs could help patients make necessary changes to avoid a stroke.

The study’s author concluded that damage may be happening to the brain well before actually experiencing a stroke. “Our findings demonstrated that future stroke patients start to deviate from stroke-free controls up to 10 years before the acute event, suggesting that individuals with cognitive and functional decline are at a higher risk of stroke and are possible candidates for prevention trials,” Alis Heshmatollah, MD, a neurology resident at Erasmus MC University and the study’s lead author, wrote in the published findings.

“The accelerated decline in cognition and daily functioning before stroke suggests that individuals with future stroke suffer from accumulating intracerebral damage years before the acute event, such as cerebral small vessel disease, neurodegeneration, and inflammation,” she added.

The CDC recommends anyone at risk for a stroke should manage their health carefully.

According to the CDC, more than 795,000 people have strokes every year in the U.S., representing one in six cardiovascular deaths overall. And while age can be a risk factor, 34 percent of all strokes were reported in people younger than 65.

To reduce your risk, the agency says that keeping an eye on your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, avoiding smoking, and managing diabetes and obesity can help in the long term. It also recommends maintaining a healthy diet of foods low in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol and high in fiber while limiting alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink for women.

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