Preventing a Stroke

A stroke is not a heart attack. A stroke occurs when the supply of blood to the brain is suddenly disrupted. Blood is carried to the brain by blood vessels called arteries. Blood may stop moving through an artery because the artery is blocked by a clot or plaque, or because the artery breaks or bursts.

When blood stops flowing, the brain does not receive the oxygen it needs; therefore, brain cells in the area die and permanent damage may be done. While some strokes cause permanent or temporary disability, other individuals are able to make a full recovery.

According to the National Stroke Association, up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented. To prevent a stroke, start by controlling your blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight with a healthy diet, exercising more, drinking alcohol in moderation, and quit smoking. Additionally, it is important to stay on top of your stroke risk factors and manage them with your physician.

  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly
  • Report any episodes of missed or irregular heartbeats
  • Treat your diabetes by keeping your blood sugar under control
  • Find out if you have high cholesterol and take steps to reduce
  • Treat circulation problems such as blocked arteries, sickle cell disease and severe anemia

Some medical conditions increase the risk of stroke. Anyone can have a stroke, although certain stroke risk factors increase the chance.

  • High blood pressure (greater than 140/90 for people without diabetes or greater than 130/80 for people with diabetes)
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes and uncontrolled blood sugar
  • Heart disease and/or irregular heartbeat
  • Sickle cell disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity, poor diet and physical inactivity

Some stroke risk factors cannot be changed

  • Age – stroke risk doubles for every decade after age 55
  • Family history of stroke in a parent, grandparent, sister or brother
  • Previous stroke or TIA
  • Gender – men have a higher risk at younger ages, while women have a higher risk over age 85
  • Race/ethnicity – African-Americans have a higher risk of stroke than other races

To understand your personal risk for a stroke, visit National Stroke National Association’s Stroke Risk Scorecard. Any elevated risks for stroke should be discussed with your doctor.

Preventing a Second Stroke

A first stroke often sneaks up unexpectedly. But for stroke survivors, the probability of a subsequent clot or brain bleed is significant. In fact, nearly a quarter of the 795,000 annual strokes in the U.S. are recurrences, and about a third of individuals who experience a transient ischemic attack (TIA), often called a mini-stroke, can go on to have a major stroke within a year.

The ways to reduce the risk of another stroke is the same as for preventing stroke in the first place. However, given the higher risk due to a previous stroke or TIA, it is more important to review risk factors, change to a healthier lifestyle, and take all medications that have been prescribed by your physician.