Reducing Your Risk of Stroke

You may be able to reduce your risk of stroke by making changes to risk factors.

General Guidelines for Preventing Stroke

Avoid Smoking

Smoking is a risk factor for stroke and heart attack. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit. You should also avoid secondhand smoke.

Eat a Healthful Diet

Eat a diet that is low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, and rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish. This will help lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and body weight—three stroke risk factors. Ask your doctor or dietitian for a balanced meal plan.

Exercise Regularly

Follow your doctor’s recommendations for physical activity. Choose exercises that you enjoy. Try 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.

Take Medications as Directed

High blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels increase your risk of having a stroke. Take blood pressure and cholesterol medications as directed by your doctor. These medications are used as additions to healthy lifestyle changes, not as replacements.

Lose Weight, If You Are Overweight or Obese

Being overweight or obese is associated with higher risk of stroke. 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.

Drink Alcohol Only in Moderation

Excessive alcohol intake raises your risk of stroke, while moderate alcohol intake may reduce the risk. One to two drinks a day may be beneficial to your cardiovascular system. If you do drink alcohol, talk with your doctor to determine how much is healthy for you.

Take Aspirin If Recommended by Your Doctor

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.

Manage Conditions to Reduce Your Risk of Stroke

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 right for you. Your doctor may recommend that you take new or additional medications to help you control your blood sugars.

If you have sleep apnea, you are at increased risk of stroke. Managing sleep apnea involves maintaining a healthy weight.

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References:

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:
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Updated October 21, 2010. Accessed November 18, 2013.
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.
8/27/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/: Corella D, Carrasco P, Sorli J, et al. Mediterranean diet reduces the adverse effect of the TCF7L2-rs7903146 polymortphism on cardiovascular risk factors and stroke incidence. Diabetes Care. 2013 Aug 13. [Epub ahead of print].
Last reviewed November 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 11/20/2013