(Colorado News Connection) Cardiovascular diseases are the world's leading cause of disability and death, and are responsible for nearly a million deaths each year in the U.S., and new research suggests the risk of stroke and other life-changing health events are not solely influenced by our genetics and family history.
Dr. Sanjay Rajagopalan, director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the Case Western Reserve University Reserve School of Medicine, said other factors are involved.
"Things in your environment might also play a role in raising the likelihood of somebody having a stroke," Rajagopalan pointed out. "Those factors are things like air pollution, certain types of toxins in the environment, mostly chemicals, for instance."
May is Stroke Awareness Month, and health professionals are reminding Americans tobacco use, lack of physical activity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are major risk factors to be addressed.
Signs someone could be having a stroke and needs immediate emergency care include loss of speech, vision or the inability to move their arms or legs or maintain balance.
Scientists said turning the tide on pollution-related strokes and other cardiovascular disease will require large-scale reduction of air pollution by rapidly transitioning to clean energy sources such as wind and solar.
Rajagopalan added the good news is genetics are not a trap into which we are hard-wired.
"It's almost like genetics loads the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger," Rajagopalan stressed. "It's almost as if you are programmed or primed, but nothing will happen unless there are other factors that conspire with your loaded genetics."
Exposure to air pollution can be at least partially mitigated by installing hepa and other air filters in homes, and Rajagopalan advised getting more exercise, reducing fatty foods and adding more vegetables to your diet can also tilt the odds in your favor.
"If you're genetically programmed to have a condition but you work around it -- by exercising, eating right -- you can decrease the risk that genetics confers on you," Rajagopalan concluded.