Reducing Your Risk of Stroke
by Ricker Polsdorfer, MD
You may be able to reduce your risk of stroke by making changes to modifiable risk factors.
General Guidelines for Preventing Stroke
A dietlow in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will help lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and body weight—three stroke risk factors. Ask your doctor or dietitian for a balanced meal plan.
Follow your doctor’s recommendations for physical activity. Choose exercises you enjoy and will make a regular part of your day. Strive to maintain an exercise program that keeps you fit and at a healthy weight. For most people, this could include walking briskly or participating in another aerobic activity for at least 30 minutes per day. If you have had an ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack, try to exercise for at least 30 minutes 1-3 times per week if your doctor says it is safe to do so.
High blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels increase your risk of having a stroke. Take blood pressure and cholesterol medicines as directed by your doctor. These medicines are used as additions to healthy lifestyle changes, not as replacements.
Being overweight or obese is associated with higher risk of stroke, and losing weight lowers that risk. To lose weight, consume fewer calories than you expend. To maintain a healthy weight, eat an equal number of calories as you expend.
Excessive alcohol intake raises your risk of stroke, but it appears that moderate alcohol intake actually reduces the risk. Studies have determined that one to two drinks a day can be beneficial to your cardiovascular system. Experts agree that if you do not already drink alcohol, you do not need to start because of this recommendation. If you do drink alcohol, talk with your doctor to determine how much is healthy for you.
Aspirin can help prevent heart attacks and strokes. It reduces stroke risk by its ability to inhibit blood clotting. Aspirin is not a good choice for you if you have bleeding problems, aspirin allergies, peptic ulcers, or any other specific reasons you should not take aspirin. Before you begin taking aspirin, talk to your doctor about any possible risks.
If you have diabetes, you are at increased risk of vascular disease. The better you control your blood sugar levels, the slower vascular disease (and other complications) will advance. Work with your doctor and a dietitian to develop a diet and exercise plan that is appropriate for you. Your doctor may recommend that you take new or additional medications to help you control your blood sugars.
American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org/ .
The Aspirin Foundation website. Available at: http://www.aspirin-foundation.com/ .
Furie KL, Kasner SE, Adams RJ, et al. Guidelines for the Prevention of Stroke in Patients With Stroke or Transient Ischemic Attack: A Guideline for Healthcare Professionals From the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke . 2010 October 21. Available at: http://stroke.ahajournals.org/cgi/reprint/STR.0b013e3181f7d043v1 . Updated October 21, 2010. Accessed November 2, 2010.
Grau AJ, Barth C, Geletneky B, et al. Association between recent sports activity, sports activity in young adulthood, and stroke. Stroke. 2009;40:426-431. Epub 2008 Dec 24.
Kasper DL, Braunwald E, Fauci A, Hauser S, Longo D, Jameson JL. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 16th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence website. Available at: http://www.ncaddnj.org/ .
Last reviewed September 2012 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 09/27/2012