Stroke Risk and Prevention
While stroke can happen to anyone at any age, the good news is that up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable, according to the National Stroke Association.
By educating yourself and your family on the risk factors and taking steps to lower your risks, you can prevent serious health problems in the future.
When it comes to preventing stroke, there are some risks you can manage, such as lifestyle choices and medical conditions, and some you can’t. Understanding your preventable risks helps you identify positive changes you can make in your life to improve your health.
Medical conditions you can manage
Some medical conditions can raise your risk of stroke, but they can be managed. If you have any of the following, see your doctor about available treatments to lower your risk of stroke.
- Atrial fibrillation (AFib) - AFib is a heart rhythm disorder, or arrhythmia, caused by an abnormal beating in the upper chambers of your heart. This makes the heart pump blood less efficiently, potentially causing blood clots and stroke.
- Carotid artery disease - The carotid arteries in your neck supply your brain with blood. When they become narrowed by plaque, they can raise your risk of stroke.
- Diabetes - Over time, diabetes can cause fatty deposits or plaque in blood vessel walls. These clots can block or narrow blood vessels in the brain and neck, leading to stroke.
- High blood pressure - High blood pressure can cause damage to arteries throughout your body, including your brain and neck, making it easier for them to clog or burst.
- High cholesterol - Cholesterol is a fatty substance that can cause build-ups in your arteries, which can then lead to blockages and ultimately stroke.
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD) - PAD is a narrowing of blood vessels in your arm and/or leg muscles caused by plaque buildup. This condition can be a warning that other arteries in your heart and brain may also be narrowed, increasing your risk of stroke.
- Sickle cell disease - The characteristic sickle-shaped cells are less able to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. Their shape can also make them stick to blood vessel walls, potentially causing a blocked artery, which can lead to a stroke.
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA) - Called a “ministroke,” TIAs can produce stroke-like symptoms that resolve quickly, but they require immediate medical attention. If you’ve had a TIA, you’re almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke, but recognizing the signs and seeking treatment can reduce your risks.
Other heart diseases - A wide range of heart diseases can contribute to your risk of stroke, including heart failure, heart valve disease and congenital heart defects.
Risks you cannot change
- Age - Although strokes can happen at any age, the risk nearly doubles every decade after age 55.
- Family history - If some of your immediate family members had a stroke, especially before the age of 65, you could be at a higher risk for stroke.
- Personal history - Having a prior stroke, TIA or heart attack can raise your stroke risk significantly.
- Race and ethnicity - Compared to Asian American, Caucasian and Hispanic populations, the risk of stroke is higher in African Americans, Alaska Natives and American Indians.
- Sex - Women have more strokes than men, and stroke kills more women than men. Factors that can increase a woman’s risk for stroke include:
- A history of gestational diabetes
- A history of preeclampsia/eclampsia
- Post-menopausal hormone therapy
- Use of oral contraceptives, especially if you smoke
Making smart decisions about your health can help reduce your risks and possibly prevent a stroke. Here are some of the best steps you can take:
Eat healthy - A healthy diet can reduce three risk factors of stroke: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and excess body weight. Choosing a diet high in fruit and vegetables, and low in sugar, sodium, saturated fats and trans fats helps keep your weight down and your entire circulatory system healthy.
Exercise - Studies have shown that people who exercise five or more times a week have a lower risk of stroke. Learn more about how much and what types of exercise are right for you with this guide from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
See your doctor regularly - If you have any medical conditions that can raise your risk of stroke, your doctor can help you identify them through regular checkups and screenings. Once a condition is diagnosed, seeking treatment or managing the condition can lower your risk of stroke and other serious conditions.
Know your numbers - Being aware of your blood pressure, blood sugar, body mass index (BMI) and lipid profile can help you identify concerns so you can develop strategies to overcome them. Your doctor can track your numbers and let you know if they’re within a healthy range.
Treat your sleep problems - Certain sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, may raise your risk of stroke. If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor about a sleep study and possible treatments.
Quit bad habits - Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption both raise your risk of stroke. That means no more than two drinks a day for men and one a day for women. If you smoke, ask your doctor about resources that can help you quit.
If you need help with creating healthy eating plans, finding a good exercise routine for your age or recommendations to reduce your risk of stroke, we can help. Our doctors can help you identify your risks and develop preventive strategies.