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Preventing stroke

A stroke occurs when the blood supply is cut off to any part of the brain. A stroke is sometimes called a "brain attack."

What are risk factors and preventive care?

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of having a stroke. You cannot change some risk factors for stroke. But some, you can.

Changing risk factors that you can control will help you live a longer, healthier life. This is called preventive care.

An important way to help prevent stroke is to see your doctor for regular physical exams. Your doctor will want to see you at least once a year. Ask your doctor when you should come in for an exam.

Risk factors you cannot change

You cannnot change some risk factors or causes of stroke:

  • Age. Your risk of stroke increases as you get older.
  • Gender. Men have a higher risk of stroke than women. But more women than men die from stroke.
  • Genetic characteristics. If one of your parents had a stroke, you are at higher risk.
  • Race. African-Americans have a higher risk of stroke than all other races. Mexican Americans, American Indians, Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans also have a higher risk of stroke.
  • Diseases such as cancer, chronic kidney disease, and some autoimmune diseases.
  • Weak areas in an artery wall or abnormal arteries and veins.
  • Pregnancy, both during and in the weeks right after pregnancy.

Blood clots from the heart may travel to the brain and cause a stroke. This may happen in people with

  • Man-made or infected heart valves
  • Certain heart defects with which you were born

Changes to your lifestyle

You can change some risk factors for stroke, by taking the following steps:

  • DO NOT smoke. If you do smoke, quit.
  • Control high blood pressure through diet, exercise, and medicines, if needed.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Maintain a healthy weight by eating healthy foods, eating smaller portions, and joining a weight loss program if needed.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink. This means no more than 1 drink a day for women and 2 a day for men.
  • DO NOT use cocaine and other illegal drugs.

Eating healthy is good for your heart and can help lower your risk of stroke.

  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Choose lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, beans, and legumes.
  • Choose nonfat or low-fat dairy products, such as 1% milk and other low-fat items.
  • Avoid fried foods, processed foods, and baked goods.
  • Eat fewer foods that contain cheese, cream, or eggs.
  • Avoid foods with a lot of sodium (salt).

Read labels and stay away from unhealthy fats. Avoid foods with:

  • Saturated fat
  • Partially-hydrogenated or hydrogenated fats

Medical problems may lead to stroke

Control your cholesterol and diabetes with a healthy diet, exercise, and medicines if needed.

If you have high blood pressure:

Talk to your doctor about the risks of taking birth control pills.

  • Birth control pills can increase the chance of blood clots, which can lead to stroke.
  • Clots are more likely in women taking birth control pills who also smoke and who are older than 35.

Your doctor may suggest taking aspirin or another drug called clopidogrel (Plavix) to help prevent blood clots from forming. DO NOT take aspirin without talking to your doctor first.

Alternative Names

Stroke - prevention; CVA - prevention; cerebral vascular accident - prevention; TIA - prevention, transient ischemic attack - prevention

References

Langhorne P. Stroke disease. In: Walker BR, Colledge NR, Ralston SH, Penman ID, eds. Davidson's Principles and Practice of Medicine. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2014:chap 27.

Meschia JF, Bushnell C, Boden-Albala B, et al. American Heart Association Stroke Council; Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; Council on Clinical Cardiology; Council on Functional Genomics and Translational Biology; Council on Hypertension. Guidelines for the primary prevention of stroke: a statement for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2014;45:3754-3832. PMID: 25355838 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25355838.

Review Date 6/1/2015

Updated by: Daniel Kantor, MD, Kantor Neurology, Coconut Creek, FL and Immediate Past President of the Florida Society of Neurology (FSN). Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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