There are many positive steps that you can take to reduce your risk of stroke. The most common risk factors for stroke are listed below. These include some conditions that can be changed by lifestyle modification or medical treatment; others cannot be changed.
Some people are more at risk for stroke than others. Chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, can increase your risk. Lifestyle choices like being overweight, smoking cigarettes, or drinking excessively also increase risk.
Men, African Americans, and people with a family history of stroke have a higher risk as well. If you have already had a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (referred to as a TIA or "mini-stroke"), you are also at a high risk.
Be familiar with the warning signs of a stroke.
Stroke Prevention Strategies
Control High Blood Pressure
Eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, and exercise regularly to reduce blood pressure. Health care providers may prescribe drugs for patients who need additional help lowering their blood pressure.
Not smoking reduces the risk of stroke. It is never too late to quit smoking. The recommendation is the sooner, the better. For former smokers who've not smoked in 10 years, the risk of stroke is the same as that of a nonsmoker.
Manage Heart Disease
Physicians can treat heart disease and may prescribe medication to help prevent the formation of blood clots. People age 50 or older should consult their physicians about taking aspirin daily.
Both diabetes and high blood pressure can be managed with weight control (diet and exercise) and medication. Strict control of blood sugar levels may reduce damage to the brain if a stroke occurs.
Even though high cholesterol may be a more important risk factor for heart attack, it also is a stroke risk factor and should be treated.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight contributes to other risk factors for stroke such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Losing as little as 10 pounds may lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.
Seek Help for Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
Although TIAs are transient (temporary), they are a sign of high risk of future stroke and should never be ignored. Medications or surgical or balloon angioplasty procedures may lessen the risk of stroke.
Common TIA symptoms include:
- Loss of vision in one eye
- Sudden weakness on one side of the body
- Sudden loss of speech or language function
Patients should contact their physician immediately if they are uncertain about whether symptoms are TIAs. Further testing or a change in medication may be recommended.
Aerobic exercise reduces the risk of stroke by lowering blood pressure, increasing the level of HDL cholesterol, and improving the overall health of blood vessels and the heart. Exercise also helps with weight reduction and diabetes control and it can reduce stress.
Stress can cause a temporary spike in blood pressure — a risk factor for brain hemorrhage — or long-lasting hypertension. It can also increase the blood's tendency to clot, which may elevate the risk of ischemic stroke. Exercise and relaxation techniques may help reduce stress.