When it comes to stroke, there are many risk factors that are beyond your control, including
- Being over age 55;
- Being a female (each year, women have more strokes than men, and stroke kills more women than men. Use of birth control pills, pregnancy, history of preeclampsia/eclampsia or gestational diabetes, oral contraceptive use, and smoking, and post-menopausal hormone therapy may pose special stroke risks for women. Be sure to discuss your specific risks with your doctor.)
- Being African-American;
- Having diabetes; and
- Having a family history of stroke.
If you have one or more of these risk factors, it is even more important that you learn about the lifestyle and medical changes you can make to prevent a stroke. However, everyone should do what they can to reduce their risk. Learn more by reading and following the guidelines below.
Medical stroke risk factors include:
Previous stroke, previous episode of TIA (or mini stroke), high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, atrial fibrillation and carotid artery disease. These risk factors can be controlled and managed with the help of a healthcare professional.
Lifestyle stroke risk factors include:
Smoking, being overweight and drinking too much alcohol. You can control these risk factors by quitting smoking, exercising regularly, watching what and how much you eat and limiting alcohol consumption.
Stroke Prevention Guidelines
Know blood pressure (hypertension).
High blood pressure is a major stroke risk factor if left untreated. Have blood pressure checked yearly by a doctor or at health fairs, a local pharmacy or supermarket or with an automatic blood pressure machine.
Identify atrial fibrillation (Afib).
Afib is an abnormal heartbeat that can increase risk by 500 percent. Afib can cause blood to pool in the heart and may form a clot and cause a stroke. A doctor must diagnose and treat Afib.
Smoking doubles your risk. It damages blood vessel walls, speeds up artery clogging, raises blood pressure and makes the heart work harder. Stopping smoking today will immediately begin to decrease risk.
Control alcohol use.
Alcohol use has been linked to stroke in many studies. Most doctors recommend not drinking or drinking only in moderation – no more than two drinks each day. Remember that alcohol can negatively interact with other drugs you are taking.
Know cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance in blood that is made by the body. It also comes in food. High cholesterol levels can clog arteries and cause a stroke. See a doctor if your total cholesterol level is more than 200.
Many people with diabetes have health problems that are also risk factors. Your doctor can prescribe a nutrition program, lifestyle changes and medicine to help control your diabetes.
Manage exercise and diet.
Excess weight strains the circulatory system. Exercise five times a week. Maintain a diet low in calories, salt, saturated and trans fats and cholesterol. Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
Treat circulation problems.
Fatty deposits can block arteries carrying blood to the brain and lead to a stroke. Other problems such as sickle cell disease or severe anemia should be treated.
Act FAST at the first warning sign of stroke.
If you have any symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
Learn more about Stroke Care at the University of Vermont Medical Center.