Preventing Stroke: What You Need to Know
How Can I Prevent a Stroke?
Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke and every four minutes, someone dies of a stroke. Once you have had a stroke, your risk increases 25 percent.
A risk factor is a condition or behavior that increases the chances of getting a disease. Certain risk factors greatly boost that risk of a stroke. Some of these factors are controllable or treatable which means taking action will reduce your risk. Other factors are beyond your control.
Risk Factors You Can’t Control
Age: After 55 the risk of stroke doubles every 10 years.
Race: African Americans and Hispanic-Americans are at a greater risk of stroke than those of other races and ethnic backgrounds.
Family history: If you have a relative who has had a stroke or heart attack before the age of 55, you are at higher risk.
Heart Disease: Atherosclerosis, Endocarditis and Arrhythmias and other heart conditions/disorders that lead to brain attack. Make sure you’re under the care of a physician and take your medications for any heart condition.
Pregnancy: Women have some risk of brain attack during pregnancy and in the weeks following delivery. Make sure you stay under the care of a physician and report any concerning symptoms.
Serious Head Injury: Get medical attention, because a serious head injury sometimes causes stroke.
Gender: At any age, a man is more likely to have a stroke than a woman, but since women live longer than men, their lifetime risk of having a stroke is greater.
Risk Factors You Can Control
Obesity: Obesity doubles your risk of stroke. Your waistline measured around your midsection should be less than 40 inches for men and less than 35 inches for women.
Physical Inactivity: Improving your physical fitness lowers stroke risk. You should try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
Smoking: Smoking leads to the buildup of fatty deposits in the carotid artery, the main artery in the neck that supplies blood to the brain. The nicotine in cigarettes raises blood pressure. Smoking thickens your blood, making it more likely to clot. Carbon monoxide in the smoke reduces the amount of oxygen your blood delivers to your brain. The risk of stroke drops after being smoke-free for two to four years.
Drinking alcohol: Men should consume no more than two servings of alcohol per day and non-pregnant women should have no more than one serving per day.
Illegal Drug Use: Stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines cause life-threatening spikes in blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks.
**Both alcohol and the use of illegal drugs increase the risk of bleeding into the brain. **
Treatable Risk Factors
High Blood Pressure: The No. 1 risk factor for stroke. Even a small reduction of blood pressure lowers your risk for brain attack by as much as 35-40%. Preventive annual screening and treatment could eliminate up to one-third of all strokes. Normal blood pressure should be 120/80 mm/Hg or less.
High Cholesterol: Leads to the blockage of blood flow. Cholesterol level is controlled by diet but may also require special medications. An increase in HDL cholesterol "good cholesterol" helps protect against stroke. While high LDL "bad cholesterol" increases the risk.
Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dl
LDL-cholesterol “The bad one”: Less than 100 mg/dl
HDL-cholesterol “The good one”: More than 60 mg/dl
Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dl.
Diabetes: A risk factor for stroke, heart attacks, poor circulation in the legs, blindness and kidney failure. Diabetes leads to stroke by causing destructive changes in the blood vessels of the brain. In addition, if blood glucose levels are high during a stroke, the damage to the brain is more severe than if blood glucose levels are controlled.
Normal blood sugar:
Before eating: 70-100 mg/dl
Atrial Fibrillation: An irregular heart rhythm that leads to the formation of clots in the heart. If a clot breaks loose, it travels to the brain and block a brain artery --causing a stroke.
Carotid Artery Disease: These large arteries in the neck supply the brain with most of its blood flow and become blocked by atherosclerotic plaque. A stroke occurs if the artery shuts down or if pieces of the plaque break off and travel to the brain.
**Don’t ignore warning signs of a previous stroke!
Sometimes temporary symptoms – such as sudden blindness in one eye, slurred speech, weakness, numbness or paralysis in the face, arm or leg – occur as a warning. These are called transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). If you experience stroke symptoms for even a little while, you should still go to the emergency room right away, even if they are gone. Tests to find the cause of the mini-stroke are run. Treating the cause will keep you from having a stroke that sticks.
If you've had a stroke before, follow your doctor's advice to avoid a second occurrence. ***
See a Doctor
See your health care provider to find out if you have any medical conditions that lead to a stroke. If you are diagnosed with one of these conditions, you should have these questions answered at your visit:
1. What are my risk factors?
2. How do I manage my risk factors?
3. What do I need to do to get it under control?
4. How do I follow my targets to make sure I stay under control?
If medication is recommended:
1. Take as directed.
2. If you experience side effects or cannot afford medication, talk with your medical team.
3. Plan ahead so you do not run out of medication.
4. Bring a list of your medications with you to each doctor visit to make sure they are still the best medications for you.
For more information:
Go to the Stroke
health topic, where you can:
- Read articles on this topic
- Browse commonly asked questions
- Learn about health research and how to participate
This article is a NetWellness exclusive.
Last Reviewed: Jun 26, 2014
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University