How to Prevent White Matter Changes

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White matter changes, also known as leukoaraiosis, are commonly found on brain imaging studies in older individuals. These radiographic changes are likely the result of chronic small vessel disease in the brain as well as asymptomatic ischemic strokes. The presence and severity of white matter changes in the brain has become an important marker in helping doctors to predict which patients are at greatest risk for functional and cognitive decline, loss of independence and death. Does a reduction in white matter changes translate into improved quality of life? How can we potentially prevent white matter changes and it's associated health consequences?

  • Stop smoking to prevent white matter changes or leukoaraiosis! Smoking tobacco is a leading cause of small vessel disease in the brain. Breathing in second hand smoke is also a risk factor.

  • Consider taking a cholesterol lowering medication such as Lipitor or Crestor to prevent white matter changes or leukoaraiosis. These statin medications likely reduce ischemic strokes and small vessel brain disease by decreasing bad cholesterol levels and inflammation as well as by stabilizing plaque build up on blood vessel walls.

  • Keep your blood pressure under control to prevent white matter changes or leukoaraiosis. If you have hypertension then faithfully take your blood pressure medication as instructed. A modest 5 millimeter decrease in systolic blood pressure can reduce ischemic stroke risk by nearly 40 percent.

  • Keep your blood sugars well controlled if you're a diabetic to prevent white matter changes. Poorly controlled diabetes is a major cause of blood vessel narrowing that can lead to small vessel disease and ischemic strokes. Diabetics have a three times greater risk for ischemic stroke than non-diabetics.

  • Avoid heavy alcohol consumption to prevent white matter changes or leukoaraiosis. Excessive alcohol can adversely effect platelet function as well as promote inappropriate clotting in small blood vessels.

  • If you're a female between the age of 55 and 79 consider taking a baby aspirin a day to prevent ischemic stroke and white matter changes .

  • Lose weight to prevent white matter changes and ischemic stroke. The combination of a heart healthy Mediterranean and regular exercise may significantly reduce the risk of white matter changes and ischemic stroke. In addition these simple lifestyle changes can reduce blood pressure, blood sugars and serum cholesterol levels.

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