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8 ways to reduce your stroke risk

Last Modified: May 23, 2019

Diseases & Disorders

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death, but remains the leading cause of adult disability. Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. But there is hope. Strokes are relatively preventable. By understanding the main risk factors for stroke, one can drastically decrease their chance of encountering this life-threatening health event.

What are the risk factors?

The risk factors for transient ischemic attack (TIA) and stroke are the same. Some risk factors, such as age, race, gender and genetic factors, cannot be changed. However, here are some risk factors for stroke and TIA that can be changed:

Stop smoking:  Smoking doubles the risk of stroke by making blood vessels hard and brittle. It also increases blood pressure. This is one of the most important things you can do to lower your risk for stroke.

Diabetes management:  Diabetes damages small blood vessels in the body. Uncontrolled diabetes leads to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, kidney disease, eye disease and nerve damage. Learn about your A1C, a 3-month average of your blood sugars. If your A1C is greater than 7, it is too high for overweight and obese adults with diabetes.

High blood pressure management:  The higher the blood pressure, the greater the risk of stroke.  Treatment of high blood pressure is associated with a 40% reduction in stroke. We recommend lifestyle changes, such as weight management, regular moderate intensity physical exercise and eating a heart-healthy diet.

Reduce high cholesterol:  Statin therapy reduces the risk of stroke and cardiovascular events among patients with ischemic stroke or TIA who have symptoms of atherosclerosis. LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) plays the biggest role in stroke care. The LDL goal is less than 70 and the goal for total cholesterol is less than 200. We recommend decreasing saturated fats (fried and fatty foods) and increasing fish, fiber and physical exercise.

Be screened for atrial fibrillation (AFib):  AFib allows blood clots to form in the heart, which can then travel to the brain and block blood flow through a vessel, causing a stroke. Some people notice palpitations (heart fluttering) with AFib, but many people have no symptoms at all. AFib can come and go, which makes it difficult to find. You may need extra tests to look for this condition if your healthcare provider is concerned that you may have it.

Weight management:  Obesity leads to increased risk of ischemic stroke and is often found in the presence of other health conditions such as high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, diabetes, coronary artery disease and obstructive sleep apnea.

Eat a heart healthy diet:  Increase fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Limit foods high in saturated fat and decrease salt (less than 2300mg of sodium per day). Reduce portion sizes and consumption of calorie-containing beverages such as soda and juices.

Engage in regular physical exercise: For active individuals, we encourage 30 minutes of moderate physical activity such as brisk walking, 3-5 days per week. For inactive individuals, we encourage starting with short activity (10 minutes) and gradually increasing time and intensity of the exercise.


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