You can take many positive steps to reduce your risk of stroke. Lifestyle modification or medical treatment can change some risk factors for stroke. You can’t change others, such as hereditary factors. Being aware of your risk can help you take preventive action.
Because stroke is a form of cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease, keeping your heart and blood vessels as healthy as possible can reduce your risk. The most important measures you can take to control your stroke risk include:
Have regular checkups
With regular checkups, your doctor can keep an eye on risk factors such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol. Your doctor can also suggest ways to control or eliminate these problems with medical care, diet, and lifestyle modifications.
Control blood pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) is the single most important risk factor for stroke. Hypertension is often called the “silent killer” because it may not have any obvious symptoms. That’s why it’s important to check your blood pressure regularly. Even mild hypertension can increase stroke risk. In general, blood pressure should be in the 120s/80s or lower.
To reduce your stroke risk, control your blood pressure with:
- Low-sodium diet
- Medication, taken regularly according to your doctor’s instructions
- Moderate or low alcohol consumption, if you drink at all
- Regular exercise
- Stress management
- Weight control
Studies confirm that smokers have a higher risk of stroke, regardless of other factors such as age, high blood pressure, or heart disease. The risk declines dramatically within a few years of stopping smoking. Learn about our smoking cessation program.
Treat heart disease
You may be able to reduce stroke risk by treating heart conditions such as:
Eat a healthy diet
Foods high in fat, cholesterol, and salt increase the risk for stroke. Improve your diet by taking these steps:
- Avoid excess fat: Eating high amounts of cholesterol and fat, particularly saturated fat, may contribute to atherosclerosis, which can lead to stroke. Reduce dietary fat and cholesterol by:
- Limiting fat or oil added in cooking
- Trimming fat and skin from meats and poultry
- Using low-fat or nonfat dairy products
- Broiling and baking foods rather than frying
- Avoid excess sodium: Excess sodium in the diet is linked to hypertension. To limit sodium:
- Eat fresh foods when possible.
- Avoid oversalting foods—try non-salt seasoning instead.
- Limit processed and canned foods containing “hidden” salts such as disodium phosphate, monosodium glutamate, or sodium nitrate.
- Limit alcohol intake: People who drink more than two alcoholic beverages per day have an increased risk of stroke. For heavy drinkers, the risk of stroke increases further. Even healthy young adults who drink heavily are at higher risk of stroke.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight strains the heart and blood vessels. Keeping your weight at a healthy level reduces stroke risk. Excess weight and obesity can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Learn about our medical weight loss program.
Regular exercise minimizes body fat increase with age. Exercise can also reduce levels of atherosclerosis that can lead to stroke. Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of activity per week (20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three to four times a week). Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
Diabetes can cause circulatory problems that raise stroke risk. Good control of diabetes appears to reduce the disease’s cardiovascular complications. Find out about our Diabetes Care Program.
Stress may increase blood pressure, which can indirectly raise stroke risk. A one-time stressful event rarely causes a stroke, but long-term unresolved stress can contribute to high blood pressure. Stress management techniques that can reduce blood pressure include:
Reconsider oral contraceptives
Oral contraceptives (the pill) appear to increase the risk of blood clots, including clots that cause stroke. Ask your doctor about other methods of birth control if you have stroke risk factors and are currently using oral contraceptives. The risk is highest for:
- Pills with high estrogen content
- Women over age 30
- Women who smoke
Be cautious with postmenopausal estrogen use
Postmenopausal estrogen replacement (hormone replacement therapy, or HRT) can raise a woman’s risk of stroke. The risk increases the longer you take HRT. Discuss the risks with your doctor.