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How can I reduce my risk of stroke?

Dr. Steven A. Meyers, MD
Diagnostic Radiologist

Several conditions have been found that increase a person's risk of stroke. Some of these risk factors cannot be treated such as age and family history. However, many risk factors can be treated. The major risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, diabetes, and smoking. Keeping these conditions under control with a combination of diet, exercise, and medications prescribed by your doctor can significantly lower one's risk of stroke.

A healthy diet is just one part of the protect-your-brain-from-stroke equation. Follow these other noggin-protective steps, too:

  • Watch your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for stroke.
  • Kick the habit. Like lovers who can't bear to part, smoking and the risk of stroke go hand in hand.
  • Resist gravity. The kind that keeps your butt glued to the couch. Just three short bouts of easy exercise a week could help stymie strokes.
  • Drop a few. Shedding those excess pounds can also shed your risk for stroke. In fact, weight loss is one of five healthful habits that can lower stroke risk by a whopping 80 percent.
Dr. Reza Jahan, MD
Neuroradiologist

You can take certain steps to reduce your risk of stroke.

  • Drink alcohol only in moderation.
  • Stop smoking. This can reduce your risk of stroke and reduce your chance of a heart attack as well.
  • Include exercise in your daily routine.
  • Eat a healthy diet that is low in fat and salt.
  • If you have a problem with your heart or blood vessels, work with your doctor to improve it. Conditions such as atrial fibrillation and carotid artery disease are risk factors for stroke.
  • Keep in mind that certain medications and hormone treatments, such as birth control pills, can increase your risk for stroke.

If you experience any stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately. Every minute matters!

Some risk factors are beyond our control, such as age, gender, and family history of stroke or cardiovascular disease. But other risk factors can be controlled through diet, medication, and lifestyle changes. Risk of stroke can be reduced by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Controlling blood pressure
  • Quitting smoking
  • Controlling diabetes
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly

There are things you can do to reduce your risk of stroke, like not smoking, exercising more and eating healthy food. If you've already had a stroke, there are medicines that help make having another stroke less likely. 

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

You can prevent a brain stroke by being cognizant of relevant lifestyle factors. Below are five steps to avoid stroke.

  1. know your five: You can’t go to battle if you don’t know what you’re fighting against. Learn your numbers (blood pressure, waist size, weight, cholesterol and fasting blood sugar) so you can focus on remedying the factors that put you at risk for stroke and other illnesses.
  2. do cardio exercise: You don’t have to run a marathon – every little bit of cardiovascular exercise helps. Little things like taking the stairs or parking in the furthest away parking spot can add up to reduce your blood pressure.
  3. lose the belly fat: Keep your waist size less than half of your height.
  4. eat right: Make sure that your diet includes leafy, green vegetables and colorful fruits. Avoid processed meats like ham, bacon and sausage that contain high amounts of fat and nitrates.
  5. monitor your medications: Birth control pills can increase your blood’s ability to clot. Hormone replacement therapy combined with other factors can also put you at risk. Speak to your doctor to make sure your medicines are safe for you.
Joane Goodroe
Nursing Specialist

The Centers for Disease Control, CDC, recommends ways to reduce the threat of strokes:

  • Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. A stroke, sometimes called a brain attack, occurs when a clot blocks the blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. You can greatly reduce your risk for stroke through lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication.
  • Among the actions available today to reduce stroke and heart attacks:
  • Aspirin for people at risk (check with your physician)
  • Blood pressure control
  • Cholesterol management
  • Smoking cessation

Atrial fibrillation, especially in people over the age of 55, and heart valve disease increase your risk of stroke. By using anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin) the risk of stroke can be greatly reduced. The amount of warfarin that is taken by a pill every day must be carefully monitored by blood tests in order to avoid bleeding in the body.

If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol you also are at increased risk for stroke. Control of these risk factors by medications reduces your risk of stroke over time. Smoking also is a well-documented risk factor for stroke, and you should make every effort to quit.

If you have had a transient ischemic attack (TIA) in the previous days and weeks, you are at risk of stroke and should be examined as soon as possible. TIAs are a warning of a stroke to come. In some cases, a partially blocked artery is found to be the cause of the TIA, and opening of the artery with surgery or placement of a stent may prevent a stroke.

In patients who have already suffered a stroke, the addition of an aspirin or an anticoagulant and possibly high doses of "statin" drugs to reduce cholesterol have all been shown to reduce the risk of a second stroke.

Eighty percent of strokes can be prevented by treating and modifying risk factors: diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and heart arrhythmia such as atrial fibrillation.

If those risk factors are identified and treated, you may never have a stroke in the first place. If you've had a stroke, your doctors will examine you to identify specific risk factors and treat those to minimize the risk of a second stroke. These treatments include medications to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation, as well as medications to help with smoking cessation. Most risk factors for stroke can be treated, currently.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

You can prevent strokes by managing risk factors: controlling blood pressure and diabetes, eating proper food and exercising.

You can prevent stroke by keeping health metrics like high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar under control.

Maintaining or improving your overall health will help you prevent a stroke. Specific medical problems that can increase your risk for stroke include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, so working with your doctor to make sure these conditions are controlled with medications is very important. Smoking greatly increases stroke risk, so quitting smoking also will help prevent stroke.

Dr. Nicholas D Suite
Neurologist

Stroke is the sudden or gradual loss of blood flow to an area of the brain, causing damage to the brain that can almost always be seen on brain imaging such as a CAT scan or MRI. Stroke is caused by a blockage of blood flow into or out of the brain. It can also be due to a sudden rupture (breakage) of a blood vessel in the brain.

Prevention of stroke is possible by controlling high blood pressure, carefully managing diabetes, avoiding smoking, lowering cholesterol levels, being aware of any family history of stroke, and avoiding any activities that might put one at risk for stroke, e.g., drugs.

Doctors may diagnose carotid artery disease using a non-invasive carotid Doppler and transcranial Doppler (TCD) ultrasound exam. Specialized types of CT scan or MRI can also be used to visualize the arteries of the head and neck. Doctors treat the disease with antiplatelet medications and surgical treatments such as:

  • Carotid endarterectomy: removal of the blockage through the neck.
  • Carotid artery angioplasty and stenting: opening the artery with a balloon and placement of a mesh tube in the artery to keep it open.
  • Bypass revascularization: rerouting the blood supply to bypass the obstruction.

Aneurysms and AVMs can be surgically treated by:

  • Blocking the abnormal vessels with "super glue" or tiny platinum coils to prevent bleeding.
  • Placing a clip over an aneurysm to prevent it from growing or rupturing.
  • Targeting AVMs with high-dose radiosurgery to close off the abnormal vessels.

The best ways to prevent stroke include lifestyle changes (blood sugar and blood pressure control, among other changes) and knowing whether you have risk factors.

You can prevent a stroke with lifestyle modifications, including a diet low in saturated fats and regular aerobic exercise, and with routine health maintenance. Routine health maintenance means getting an annual health checkup with your primary care physician, who will monitor key health values such as your blood pressure and cholesterol. Your physician may have you monitor your blood pressure a few times per week at home or at your nearby pharmacy. Depending on your risk factors, you may need blood pressure medication, cholesterol-lowering medication or aspirin to help prevent a stroke. Patients with blockages in blood vessels in their neck may need a surgical procedure to correct this. If you smoke, of course, you must stop.

Controlling the major stroke risk factors is the major way to prevent strokes. The risk factors are: high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation and certain kinds of narrowing in the carotid arteries in the neck. Please ask your doctor about the best way to do this for you.

There are other lifestyle changes you can make to prevent a stroke. Increasing physical activity will help in several ways: it will improve blood pressure, weight, cholesterol and blood sugar. It also improves well-being. If you are overweight or obese, regular physical activity is one of the ways to reduce your weight, which has a significant impact on your health. Stopping smoking is essential, to prevent not only strokes but a multitude of other diseases, such as heart attack, cancer and lung disease. If you drink more than 1-2 drinks of alcohol per day, this increases risk of both ischemic (blood-clot type) and hemorrhagic (bleeding-type) of strokes, and this should be cut down. Eating a low-salt, low-fat diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains will decrease risk of stroke, improve blood pressure and cholesterol, and increase overall energy levels.

Strokes are very scary. But recent research proves that knowledge = brain-saving power. Here's what you need to know:

  • Feed your brain smart foods. Just swapping olive oil for butter or creamy dressings could cut your stroke odds 41 percent. Choosing broiled or poached fish instead of fried three times a week can lower them 30 percent. These two simple antistroke steps lower your blood pressure and lousy LDL cholesterol, cool inflammation and discourage blood clots. Then, cut back on salt, which is practically fuel injected into fast food, restaurant fare and many packaged foods. Eating lots of it increases your risk of the most common form of strokes.
  • Exercise slightly harder. Bumping up the intensity just a little can cut by 40 percent your odds of a "silent" stroke—a whispered, brief brain attack that boosts your risk for the real thing fivefold. Silent strokes are super common: About 11 percent of people ages 55 to 65 and half of people over 80 have them. Signs include one side of your body feeling numb or weak for a few moments; a vision fade-out; or a few seconds when you can't understand what others are saying or can't make yourself understood. Tell your doc what you think happened; it could be a warning.
  • Focus on these reversible risks: high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking (including secondhand smoke), off-beat heart rhythms and clogged arteries.
  • Get gold-standard brain care. Clot-busting drugs save brain cells after an ischemic stroke (the most common type) if you get them within a few hours of a stroke's start. So if you spot early signs of a stroke, get to a hospital that has a certified stroke center at siren speed. (Put the nearest hospital in your cell phone to show the EMT team.) Calling an ambulance and saying "Stroke!" can double or even quadruple the chances of getting to a stroke-certified hospital in time for clot busters to work their magic. Late arrival is a key reason few people—just 1 in 25—who need them get these brain-saving drugs. Getting to a stroke center increases your survival chances by 20 percent.

Do these things to help prevent stroke (and heart problems, too):

  • Exercise 30 minutes every day. This helps lower blood pressure and protect your health.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Don't smoke. Smokers have more strokes and heart attacks than nonsmokers.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose extra weight if you need to.
  • Don't drink too much alcohol. If you drink, have no more than one to two drinks a day.
  • Take medicine to control high blood pressure or high cholesterol. If a doctor has given you medicine for these things, take it! Even if you don't notice a change, the medicine can help protect your health.
  • Lower your stress. Take time for yourself. Do things that make you feel happy and calm. Try to get about 8 hours of sleep every night.

The most important steps you can take to prevent a stroke are:

  • Lower your blood pressure (the single biggest stroke risk factor).
  • Keep cholesterol levels healthy.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Lose weight.
  • Exercise regularly.

Note: Treatment with blood-thinning drugs, as directed by a physician on a case-by-case basis, may also be important for stroke prevention.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.