Risk Factors and Prevention
Many risk factors are beyond your control, including being over age 55, being a male, being African-American, and having a family history of stroke. If you have one or more of these risk factors, it is even more important that you learn about the lifestyle and medical changes you can make to prevent a stroke. However, everyone should do what they can to reduce their risk for stroke, and you can learn more by reading and following the stroke prevention guidelines below.
The following risk factors can be controlled and managed with the help of a health care professional:
- Previous stroke
- Previous episode of TIA (mini-stroke)
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Heart disease
- Atrial fibrillation
- Carotid artery disease
You can control the following risk factors through your lifestyle:
- Being overweight or obese
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Stroke Prevention Guidelines
- Know your blood pressure.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major stroke risk factor if left untreated. Have your blood pressure checked yearly by your doctor or at a health fair, local pharmacy, or supermarket, or with an automatic blood pressure machine.
- Identify atrial fibrillation (A-Fib).
A-Fib is an abnormal heartbeat that can increase stroke risk by 500 percent. It can cause blood to pool in the heart, which may form a clot and cause a stroke. A doctor must diagnose and treat A-Fib.
- Stop smoking.
Smoking doubles the risk of stroke. It damages blood vessel walls, speeds up artery clogging, raises blood pressure, and makes the heart work harder. Stopping smoking today will immediately begin to decrease your risk.
- Control alcohol use.
Alcohol use has been linked to stroke in many studies. Most doctors recommend not drinking or drinking only in moderation—no more than two drinks each day. Remember that alcohol can negatively interact with other drugs you are taking.
- Know your cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the blood that is made by the body. It also comes in food. High cholesterol levels can clog arteries and cause a stroke. See a doctor if your total cholesterol level is more than 200.
- Control diabetes.
Many people with diabetes have health problems that are also stroke risk factors. Your doctor can prescribe a nutrition program, lifestyle changes, and medicine to help control your diabetes.
- Manage exercise and diet.
Excess weight strains the circulatory system. Exercise five times a week. Maintain a diet low in calories, salt, saturated and trans fats, and cholesterol. Eat five servings of fruit and vegetables daily.
- Treat circulation problems.
Fatty deposits can block arteries carrying blood to the brain, and lead to a stroke. Other problems such as sickle cell disease or severe anemia should be treated.
- Act FAST at the first warning sign of stroke.
If you have any stroke symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
Remember to call 911 immediately if you experience any signs or symptoms of stroke. The paramedics will arrive and quickly take you to the hospital. Do not drive your car.