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Stroke risk factors and prevention

A stroke is an interruption of the blood supply to any part of the brain. A stroke is sometimes called a "brain attack."

A risk factor is something about you that increases your chance of getting a disease or having a certain health condition. Some risk factors for stroke you cannot change, but some you can. Changing risk factors that you do control will help you live a longer, healthier life.

See also:

Alternative Names

Stroke prevention; Preventing strokes

Information

Risk Factors You Cannot Change

  • Your age. Risk of stroke increases with age.
  • Your gender. Men have a higher risk of getting heart disease than women except in older adults.
  • Your genes or race. If your parents had a stroke, you are at higher risk. African-Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans also have a higher risk for heart problems.
  • Diseases such as cancer, chronic kidney disease, and some types of arthritis
  • Weak areas in an artery wall or abnormal arteries and veins
  • Pregnancy-- both during and in the weeks right after the 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 or in certain heart defects you were born with. Other causes of blood clots are a very weak heart and some abnormal heartbeats,

Risk Factors You Can Change

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

  • Do not smoke. If you do smoke, quit .
  • Control your cholesterol through diet, exercise, and medicines , if needed.
  • Control high blood pressure through diet, exercise, and medicines, if needed.
  • Control diabetes through diet, exercise, and medicines, if needed.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Maintain a healthy weight by eating healthy foods, eating less, and joining a weight loss program, if needed.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink. This means 1 drink a day for women and 2 a day for men.
  • Avoid cocaine and other illegal drugs.
  • Talk to your doctor about the risk of birth control pills. Birth control pills can increase the chance of blood clots, which can lead to stroke. Clots are more likely in women who also smoke and who are older than 35.

Good nutrition is important to your heart health and will help control some of your stroke risk factors.

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

Read labels, and stay away from "saturated fat" and anything that contains "partially-hydrogenated" or "hydrogenated" fats. These products are usually loaded with unhealthy fats.

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.

If you are taking these drugs or other blood thinners, you should take steps to prevent yourself from falling or tripping.

Follow these guidelines and the advice of your doctor to lower your chances of stroke.

References

Goldstein LB, Bushnell CD, Adams RJ, Appel LJ, Braun LT, Chaturvedi S, et al. Guidelines for the primary prevention of stroke: a guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2011 Feb;42(2):517-84. Epub 2010 Dec 2.

Updated: 4/30/2011

Kevin Sheth, MD, Department of Neurology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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