The good news about stroke is that it’s largely preventable. Research has shown that you can take steps to prevent stroke by reducing and controlling your risk factors — more than 4.7 million people who have had strokes are alive today.
By knowing your risk factors, you can focus on those that you can change to help lower your risk of stroke.
Although there are some risk factors that you can’t control — such as being 65 or older, being of African-American heritage or having a family history of stroke — there are a number of factors that can be changed, treated or controlled by leading a healthier lifestyle.
Risk factors for stroke that can be controlled include:
- High blood pressure is the single most important risk factor for stroke. Know your blood pressure and have it checked at least once every two years. If it’s 140/90 or above, it’s high. Talk to your doctor about how to control it.
- Tobacco use can cause issues with overall cardiovascular health. If you smoke, quit.
- Alcohol and drug abuse. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. If you are dependent on drugs or alcohol, seek immediate help.
- Having diabetes increases the risk of stroke. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for controlling your diabetes and reducing other risk factors.
- High cholesterol can increase the risk of a blockage forming in an artery leading to the brain, causing a stroke. Your LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol should be lower than 100 mg/dL, so follow your doctor’s recommendations to control your cholesterol.
- Carotid artery disease is a condition that occurs when arteries in your neck supplying blood to your brain develop a fatty buildup of plaque (atherosclerosis) inside the artery wall. This can cause the arteries to become blocked, resulting in a stroke. Fortunately, plaque in the carotid arteries can be easily identified through a fast, non-invasive ultrasound examination performed in the physician’s office. Early detection can prevent the condition from causing a stroke.
- In atrial fibrillation (AF), the heart’s upper chambers quiver rather than beating effectively, causing the blood to pool and clot. Other types of heart disease also increase the risk of stroke.
- Certain blood disorders can contribute to stroke. A high red blood cell count makes clots more likely, leading to stroke. Sickle cell anemia increases stroke risk because the “sickled” cells stick to blood vessel walls and may block arteries.
- Being physically inactive, obese or both can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. People with excess body fat, especially in the waist area, are at higher risk even if they do not have other risk factors. Waist measurements greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men can put you at a greater risk for stroke. Exercise just 30 minutes or more each day to improve your health and protect against stroke and many other diseases.
- A poor diet high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels. High-salt diets can contribute to high blood pressure; and diets with excess calories can contribute to obesity. Eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day may reduce the risk of stroke.