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Stroke Risk Factors and Prevention

Many risk factors for stroke are beyond your control, including being over age 55, being male, being African-American, and having a family history of stroke. If you have one or more of these risk factors, it’s especially 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 stroke risk.

These risk factors can be controlled and managed with the help of your healthcare provider:

  • Previous stroke
  • Previous episode of TIA (transient ischemic attack, or mini-stroke)
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Heart disease
  • Atrial fibrillation (abnormal heartbeat)
  • Carotid artery disease

You can control other risk factors through your lifestyle:

  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

Ways to Protect Yourself from Stroke 

  • 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 healthcare provider or at a health fair, local pharmacy, or supermarket. You can also use an automatic blood pressure machine.

  • Identify atrial fibrillation (A-Fib).
    • A-Fib is an abnormal heartbeat that can increase your stroke risk by 500%. It can cause blood to pool in your 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 your 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’s made by the body. It’s also found 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 your 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 your 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.

Call 911 immediately if you or others experience any signs or symptoms of stroke. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.
Learn more about stroke care at St. Luke's