The Top 10 Stroke Risks: All Within Your Control
A poor diet and lack of exercise are among the stroke risks you can control. Learn about the top stroke risks and how you can reduce them.

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The Top 10 Stroke Risks: All Within Your Control

Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States. Each year, more than 795,000 people have a stroke and almost 130,000 people die from stroke. We can't control some risk factors for stroke, like race and ethnicity, family history, age and gender. But experts estimate than 80 percent of stroke risk can be prevented or controlled.

Here are 10 things you can do to help prevent or delay a stroke or a "mini-stroke" — what's known as a transient ischemic attack, or TIA — from happening to you.

  1. Control high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the main risk factor for stroke. If your blood pressure stays above normal levels, work with your doctor to control it. He or she may recommend lifestyle changes and possibly medications.
  2. Stop smoking. If you smoke, stop. Smoking can damage and tighten blood vessels, increasing your risk of stroke. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit. And avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, which can also increase your risk of stroke.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight. If you're overweight, work with your doctor to create a reasonable weight-loss plan that includes a diet full of a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods. Canned or frozen fruits and veggies are nutritious — just look for "no sugar added" or "low sodium" versions.
  4. Exercise. Not getting enough exercise can lead to weight gain and increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Not getting enough exercise also raises your risk of diabetes. Most American adults should aim for 150 minutes each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and two days a week of strength-building exercises. If you are physically inactive or you have a health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy or other symptoms, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program or increasing your activity level. He or she can tell you what types and amounts of activities are safe and suitable for you.
  5. Control or prevent diabetes. If you have diabetes, work with your doctor to develop a plan to control the condition. Diet, exercise and medication can all help to manage your blood sugar.
  6. Strive for good cardiovascular health. Heart disease, such as coronary artery disease, heart failure or atrial fibrillation, can cause blood clots that can cut off oxygen to the brain and lead to stroke. If you have heart disease, learn what you can do to manage your condition and stay healthy.
  7. Know your cholesterol levels. High LDL (bad) cholesterol is also a risk factor for stroke. If your levels are elevated, work with your doctor to keep them in a normal range.
  8. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so within a healthy limit. Excessive alcohol use has been shown to increase your stroke risk. Dietary guidelines call for moderation. That means no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two a day for men. One drink is a glass of wine, beer or a small amount of hard liquor. Some adults should not drink alcohol at all.
  9. Reduce stress and depression.
  10. Know your other risk factors.If you've had a stroke, you're at higher risk for another one. Your risk of having a repeat stroke is the highest right after a stroke. Certain medical conditions, such as brain aneurysms or certain blood disorders, also increase your risk for stroke. And while you can't control your family history, it's important to know about it. Tell your doctor if someone in your family has had a stroke or mini-stroke. Stroke occurs more often in people who are of African-American, Hispanic, Alaskan Native and Native American origin.

If you experience stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately. Every minute matters.

By Susan G. Warner, Contributing Editor
Created on 01/21/2011
Updated on 05/23/2013
Sources:
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Health information for the public. Health topics: Who is at risk for stroke?
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Health information for the public. Health topics: How can a stroke be prevented?
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Know stroke. Know the signs. Act in time.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Stroke behavior.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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