Stroke risk factors include some things you can change and some you can't. Find out if you have any of these risk factors and how to protect yourself from stroke.
Top Ways to Reduce Your Stroke Risk
Stroke risk factors that are out of your control include advanced age, a family history of stroke, your race (African Americans are more at risk for stroke than other ethnicities), and even your sex — up until age 85, men face a greater risk for stroke than women do. But there are many other factors that you can control to make stroke less likely.
Here are some tips to lower your stroke risk:
- Stop smoking and limit alcohol. Smoking is a lifestyle choice that affects your stroke risk because it damages your blood vessels. Drinking alcohol in excess can raise your blood pressure, which increases your stroke risk. If you smoke, you should stop now. Ask your doctor for help if you’ve had trouble quitting on your own.
- Manage high blood pressure. Having high blood pressure is one of the most important yet treatable risk factors for stroke. "For every 10 points your upper blood pressure number goes up, your risk of stroke doubles," warns Jose Biller, MD, professor and chairman of the neurology department at Loyola University Health Systems in Chicago. You need to know your upper (systolic) and lower (diastolic) blood pressure numbers. If you haven’t had your blood pressure checked lately, do it soon.
- Take steps to lower high cholesterol. Your cholesterol number is another important stroke risk factor that you can control. Having high cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits that build up inside your blood vessels, and these deposits can lead to stroke. If you haven’t had your cholesterol checked recently, you should see your doctor. Making healthy changes to your diet and exercise routine can help lower your cholesterol levels.
- Monitor atrial fibrillation. Some conditions can increase your risk for stroke. "If you’ve been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, you have five times the stroke risk as someone without atrial fibrillation," Dr. Biller says. Work closely with your doctor to get your symptoms under control to lower your stroke risk.
- Get diabetes under control. Your blood sugar is another important number to know, especially if you have diabetes. Diabetes, or high blood sugar, increases your stroke risk and makes a stroke more dangerous. Diabetes also tends to be linked to high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Type 2 diabetes, the type that can occur as you get older, can often be controlled with diet and exercise.
- Ramp up your exercise plan. Lack of regular exercise is a stroke risk factor for about 40 percent of Americans — not getting enough exercise can lead to obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure, which are all stroke risks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a combination of 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise (such as a brisk walk) with some type of strength training exercise two or three days a week.
- Follow a healthy diet for a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is an important lifestyle choice for reducing your stroke risk — being overweight or obese raises risk factors like cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. A diet that’s high in fat and cholesterol can raise stroke risk factors such as blood pressure and blood cholesterol along with your weight. Work with your doctor or a dietitian to develop a balanced diet and start working towards a healthy weight.