Secondary Prevention of Stroke

By White, Carole L. | American Nurse Today, December 2015 | Go to article overview

Secondary Prevention of Stroke


White, Carole L., American Nurse Today


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Every 40 seconds, a stroke occurs in the United States. This translates to approximately 795,000 strokes annually; of these, about 25% are recurrent strokes. Although stroke has declined from the fourth to the fifth leading cause of death in this country, it remains a major cause of adult disability and significantly changes the lives of stroke survivors and their families. The need for better stroke-prevention strategies is crucial. Without them, stroke prevalence and costs are expected to rise substantially over the next two decades.

Defining stroke

While the broader definition of stroke includes both ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke, this article focuses on ischemic stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA).

* Ischemic stroke is a central nervous system (CNS) infarction accompanied by signs and symptoms of stroke persisting more than 24 hours.

* TIA conventionally is defined as signs or symptoms of a brief neurologic dysfunction that lasts less than 24 hours. However, more widespread use of brain imaging (especially magnetic resonance imaging) has shown that up to one-third of patients with symptoms lasting less than 24 hours have had a CNS infarction. This has led to a new definition of TIA as a transient neurologic dysfunction resulting from focal brain, spinal cord, or retinal ischemia without infarction, regardless of duration.

Primary vs. secondary stroke prevention

Primary stroke prevention refers to prevention strategies in persons with no previous history of stroke or TIA. Secondary prevention refers to treatment strategies in persons who've already had a stroke or TIA, with the goal of preventing a recurrence.

Stroke risk factors can be modifiable or nonmodifiable. Nonmodifiable risk factors include age, race, sex, ethnicity, and a family history of stroke or TIA. Modifiable factors include hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and lifestyle factors. This article focuses on modifiable risk factors.

Risk factors for both initial and recurrent stroke are similar. However, people who've had a stroke or TIA are at increased risk for a recurrence. Annual risk for future ischemic stroke after an initial event is approximately 3% to 4%--a significant decrease over the past two decades. The decline stems from widespread use of evidence-based secondary prevention practices, including antiplatelet therapy, effective blood pressure and hyperlipidemia management, and atrial fibrillation (AF) treatment.

Secondary stroke prevention

The most recent prevention guidelines for stroke and TIA place greater emphasis on lifestyle, based on the growing evidence that supports the role of lifestyle modification in vascular risk reduction. As a nurse, you can play a key role in helping stroke and TIA patients achieve evidence-based lifestyle changes. For treatment of each risk factor, see Stroke risk factors and treatment recommendations.

Hypertension

Hypertension is the most significant risk factor. Approximately 70% of people with a recent stroke have a history of hypertension. Evidence shows that lowering blood pressure (BP) is effective in secondary stroke prevention. A recent meta-analysis of 10 randomized trials confirmed the benefits of lowering BP in preventing recurrent stroke. Overall, antihypertensive drug therapy was associated with a 22% reduction in stroke recurrence.

Experts recommend initiating therapy in adults with a history of stroke or TIA who have a systolic BP of 140 mm Hg or higher or a diastolic BP (DBP) of 90 mm Hg or higher. No evidence suggests a specific antihypertensive medication or class of medications is best for secondary stroke prevention. Instead, the goal is to reduce BP.

Besides pharmacologic treatment, several lifestyle modifications are linked to BP reduction and should be considered as part of a comprehensive BP management plan. …

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