Reduce your stress, lessen your stroke risk

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

By: Femi Cole

Man coping with stress.


Here’s some advice for those living a high-stress lifestyle: Simmer down. At least that’s what two Green Bay medical experts advise for those hoping to reduce their risk of stroke.


A stroke is a brain attack occurring when blood flow to an area of the brain is blocked. Brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. When such brain cells die, abilities controlled by that area of the brain, for example, memory and muscle control, are lost.


Chronic, long-term stress can increase a person’s chances of having a stroke. A frequently-cited study warns against unmanaged stress, concluding that “compared with healthy age-matched individuals, stressful habits and type A behavior are associated with high risk of stroke.”


Dr. Lynn Wagner, an integrative lifestyle medicine physician, and Dr. Ziad Darkhabani, an interventional neurologist, echo those warnings. Wagner is with BayCare Clinic. Darkhabani is with BayCare Clinic’s healthcare partner, Aurora BayCare Medical Center.


“We live in a world of constant stressors, some good and some bad,” Wagner says. A fight with a spouse, being fired from work, serious illness, these are examples bad stressors, she says. Good stressors can include a tough but fulfilling fitness workout or completing a challenging project at work.


“Over time, bad stress can lead to a breakdown of the body, foster inflammation and metabolic disturbances that can increase the chances of diseases such as stroke,” Wagner says. “In addition, if you are not living a healthy lifestyle, the way stress affects you will be even stronger as your resiliency – the way we react to our external stressors – is likely to be weakened.


“No one wants stress, and they certainly don't want stroke, but they can be related,” Wagner says.


As an interventional neurologist, Darkhabani treats stroke and neurocritical care patients.


He frequently advises patients to reduce their stress levels.


“In addition to encouraging lifestyle changes – smoking cessation, healthy diet, healthy weight, properly managing diabetes and high blood pressure, etc. – we encourage patients to work with their care team to manage their stress,” Darkhabani says.


While nearly three-fourths of all strokes occur in people older than 65, stroke can strike younger people.


“We’ve been seeing an increase in stroke patients under the age of 45,” Darkhabani says. “It’s concerning.”


Stress can be controlled with these simple tips, Wagner says.


  • Learn to meditate
  • Eat clean, sleep well and exercise regularly
  • Get outdoors
  • Connect with others
  • Pray or connect spiritually
  • Follow your bliss

“If you do recognize signs of stroke in yourself or someone near you – sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg; confusion; sudden vision problems; trouble walking; sudden severe headache – call 9-1-1 and seek medical assistance immediately,” Darkhabani says.


Dr. Lynn Wagner is a fellowship-trained integrative lifestyle medicine physician. She sees patients in De Pere. To request an appointment, call 920-327-7056 or do so online.


Dr. Ziad Darkhabani is an interventional neurologist with Aurora BayCare Interventional Neurology. He treats patients at Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay and Oshkosh. To request an appointment, call 920-288-8044 or do so online.

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BayCare Clinic,, is the largest physician-owned specialty-care clinic in northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. BayCare Clinic offers expertise in more than 20 specialties, with more than 100 physicians serving in 16 area communities. BayCare Clinic is a joint partner in Aurora BayCare Medical Center, a 167-bed, full-service hospital. Follow BayCare Clinic on Facebook and Twitter.