How Do I Prevent a Stroke?

Some risk factors you can control; others you can’t. By having regular medical checkups and knowing your risk factors, you and your doctor can lower your chance of having a stroke.

Risk Factors That Can Be Changed or Treated

  • High blood pressure. This is the most important risk factor because it’s the number one cause of stroke. Have your blood pressure checked regularly and if it’s consistently high (above 140/90), talk to your doctor about how to control it.
  • Smoking and Tobacco use. Don’t smoke cigarettes or use other forms of tobacco, because smoking damages the blood vessels that carry oxygen to the brain.
  • Diabetes mellitus. Work with your doctor to manage diabetes, because it can cause narrowing of the blood vessels in the brain, increasing your chance of stroke.  It is important to follow a healthy diet, exercise program, and medication regimen recommended by doctor to help control your diabetes.
  • High blood cholesterol. High blood cholesterol increases the risk of clogged arteries (plaque buildup). If an artery leading to the brain becomes blocked with this buildup, a stroke can occur.  A healthy diet can often reduce blood cholesterol levels but some people may need medications.
  • Physical inactivity and obesity. Being inactive and/or obese can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease (which includes heart disease and stroke).  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults should participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five or more days per week.
  • Excessive alcohol use. Drinking an average of more than one drink per day for women or more than two drinks a day for men raises blood pressure, which is the number one cause of stroke. Binge drinking can increase your chance of having a stroke.
  • Illicit drug use. Illicit drug use carries a high risk of stroke. Cocaine use has also been linked to stroke.
  • TIAs. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are “mini strokes” that produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting effects. These are usually a serious warning sign that a stroke may occur in the near future and should not be ignored. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce the risk of a major stroke.
  • Carotid or other artery disease. The carotid arteries in your neck supply most of the blood to your brain, so a carotid artery damaged by a fatty buildup of plaque inside the artery wall may become blocked by a blood clot, increasing your risk for a stroke.
  • Atrial fibrillation and other heart disease. Atrial fibrillation means the heart’s upper chambers quiver rather than beat normally and effectively, causing blood to pool and clot, which increases the risk of stroke. In general, people with other types of heart disease have a higher risk of stroke.
  • Certain blood disorders. A high red blood cell count makes clots more likely, increasing the risk of stroke. Sickle cell anemia increases stroke risk because the “sickled” cells stick to blood vessel walls and may block arteries.

Risk Factors That Can’t Be Controlled

  • Increasing age. As you age, the greater your risk of having a stroke.
  • Gender. Women have more strokes than men and stroke kills more women than men.
  • Heredity and race. People with stroke in their family have a higher risk of stroke. Blacks have a higher risk of death and disability from stroke than whites, because they have high blood pressure more often. Hispanics are also at higher risk.