Stroke Risk Factors

It's estimated that 80 percent of strokes are preventable. Anyone at any age can have a stroke.

What Increases the Risk for Stroke?

You are more likely to have a stroke if you have a medical condition that puts a strain on your heart and blood vessels, such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Blood vessel disease
  • Heart rhythm or heart valve problems
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Sleep apnea

Some unhealthy lifestyle habits can increase your risk for a stroke. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Eating an unhealthy diet.
  • Being overweight.
  • Not getting enough exercise.
  • Using illegal drugs or too much alcohol.

How Can I Lower My Risk for a Stroke?

Some of the risks for a stroke cannot be prevented, such as age, race and family history. Other risks, such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease can be controlled with the help of your healthcare provider. Here are some ways you can lower your stroke risk:

Take all prescribed medicines carefully, following your provider’s instructions. Check with your healthcare provider before taking nonprescription medicines, supplements or natural remedies.

  • If you have heart disease, follow your treatment plan.
  • If you have diabetes, keep good control of your blood sugar.
  • Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control. Talk to your healthcare provider about how to do this.

Lifestyle changes can also help prevent a stroke. These include:

  • Eating a healthy diet that is low in sodium (salt) and saturated and trans-fat and includes at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Trying to keep a healthy weight. If you are overweight, lose weight.
  • Staying fit with the right kind of exercise for you.
  • Learn ways to manage stress. Ask for ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies or take walks. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Talk with your provider ways to quit smoking.
  • If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink.
  • If you abuse drugs, get help to stop.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you should take a daily aspirin. Because it’s not right for everyone, taking a daily aspirin is something you should do only after talking with your provider. Aspirin can make some types of stroke worse. With your provider, you can decide if the benefits of aspirin outweigh the risks.

Eating a Mediterranean Diet

Following a diet plan that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats — such as the Mediterranean Diet — can help:

  • reduce cholesterol levels
  • decrease elevated blood pressures
  • help you to lose excess weight

Each of these three things are among the modifiable risk factors for stroke.

Here are nine steps for good health to make your meals more Mediterranean-like:

  1. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Include a variety of fruits and vegetables with your meals. Enjoy fruit for a snack or dessert.
  2. Change the way you think about meat. If you eat meat, have a smaller amounts and favor poultry. Eat red meat only occasionally. Have smaller portions, similar to the size of a deck of cards, when eating chicken or lean meat as a main course.
  3. Consume low fat dairy products. Eat Greek or plain yogurt, low fat milk, and try smaller amounts of a variety of cheeses.
  4. Eat fish and seafood at least twice a week. Fish such as tuna, trout, salmon, herring and sardines are rich in heart-healthy omega-33 fatty acids, good for brain and heart health. Avoid breaded and deep fried fish.
  5. Fix a vegetarian meal one night a week. Build these meals around beans, legumes, whole grains and vegetables. When one night feels comfortable, try two nights per week.
  6. Use good fats. Replace butter with healthier oils. Include sources of healthy fats in daily meals like olive or canola oil, nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, nut butters and avocados.
  7. Choose whole grains. Include whole grain breads, pasta, brown rice and other grains like bulgur. Whole grains are rich in many important nutrients and the extra fiber may leave you more satisfied.
  8. Limit sweets and desserts. Have fruit with meals and snacks in place of sweets. Save special treats for celebrations.
  9. Use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods. Use different herbs, spice blends and vinegars in food preparation and cooking for added flavor. Recent studies have shown that the Mediterranean way of life (daily exercise, not smoking, limited alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight) have just as much to do with good health as what we eat.

View the Stroke Risk Scorecard (PDF) from the National Stroke Association to assess your risk. Learn more about your stroke risk and how to reduce it.

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