Many risk factors for stroke can be controlled.
You can't control every risk factor for stroke. For example, according to the
American Stroke Association (ASA), a person's risk increases with age, when there's a family
history of stroke or sometimes according to race. (African Americans have
a higher risk of death from stroke than Caucasians do.)
However, it's important to know that you can do something about most
risk factors for stroke, the ASA notes.
Reduce your risk
Controllable risk factors for stroke include:
High blood pressure. This is the strongest risk factor for stroke, according to the
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). It damages blood vessels and contributes to hardened arteries.
These changes can lead to a stroke if a blood clot blocks an artery or
a burst blood vessel bleeds into the brain.
What you can do: Have your blood pressure checked regularly. If it's high, your doctor
can help you lower it.
Smoking can cause a buildup of fatty substances in the carotid artery, which carries
blood to your brain. Blockage of this artery is the leading cause of stroke
in the United States, according to NINDS.
Smoking can also raise blood pressure, damage blood vessels and deprive
the brain of oxygen.
What you can do: If you smoke, ask your doctor for help quitting.
Heart problems such as atrial fibrillation can raise the risk for stroke. Atrial fibrillation
occurs in about 15 percent of people with strokes, according to the
National Stroke Association. It causes the heart to beat irregularly, which may lead to blood clots.
These clots can trigger a stroke if they block blood vessels that lead
to the brain.
What you can do: Follow your doctor's instructions for controlling any heart problems you have.
Artery disease causes fatty deposits called plaque to build up in arteries. These plaques
can cut off blood flow and trigger a stroke.
What you can do: Because cholesterol can contribute to artery problems, it's important
to control it. If you're 20 or older, the
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says you should have your cholesterol measured at least once every five years.
If you develop artery disease, your doctor may prescribe lifestyle changes
or medicines to treat it.
Diabetes can raise stroke risk by damaging blood vessels. People with diabetes
are also at higher risk for high blood pressure and cholesterol problems,
raising their stroke risk even more.
What you can do: By treating diabetes, you can delay complications that raise your stroke
risk. But simply having diabetes still increases your risk.
Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), or "warning strokes," cause temporary, strokelike symptoms
that often warn that a major stroke is on the way.
TIA symptoms come on suddenly and may include:
- Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
- Confusion or trouble speaking or understanding.
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination.
- Severe headache of unknown cause.
What you can do: Seek medical help immediately if you experience symptoms of a TIA. Treatment
can help prevent a full-blown stroke.
Blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia or a high red cell count, can raise a person's
stroke risk by interfering with blood flow to the brain.
What you can do: If you have a blood disorder, follow your doctor's instructions for
Prior strokes. Once you've had one stroke, you're at high risk for having another one.
What you can do: Talk to your doctor about medicines and lifestyle changes that can reduce
your risk of future strokes.
Choose a healthy lifestyle
Many risk factors for stroke can be reduced simply by choosing a healthy
lifestyle. That means exercising regularly, eating right and watching
your weight. It also means knowing the risks of alcohol and drugs, both
of which may increase your risk for stroke. Making healthy changes in
your life today can help protect you from stroke later on.