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Reduce Your Risk of Stroke

smiling older couple.

The Basics

You can help prevent stroke. These are the 6 most important steps you can take to lower your risk of stroke:

  • Keep your blood pressure in the normal range.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Keep your blood sugar (glucose) in the normal range.
  • Stay active and maintain a healthy weight.
  • If you have heart disease, treat it.
  • Keep your cholesterol (“koh-LEHS-tuh-rahl”) levels in the normal range.

Making these healthy changes will also help lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Learn more about healthy living habits that can help prevent stroke:

Am I at risk for stroke?
High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke.

High blood pressure has no signs or symptoms, so be sure to get your blood pressure checked at least once every 2 years. Ask your doctor if you need to get it checked more often.

Other risk factors for stroke include:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Physical inactivity and obesity
  • An irregular heart beat (atrial fibrillation)
  • High cholesterol

You are at greater risk for stroke as you grow older. Stroke can also run in families, so it’s important to know your family medical history.

What is a stroke?
A stroke is sometimes called a “brain attack.” Stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked. Stroke is a leading cause of death in adults. It’s also the most common cause of long-term disability in adults.

What are the effects of stroke?
Stroke can affect the whole body. A stroke can cause problems with:

  • Thinking and speaking
  • Moving your muscles (paralysis)
  • Emotions

How do I know if I’m having a stroke?
A stroke happens suddenly, usually with little warning. Signs of a stroke include:

  • Trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance
  • Confusion, trouble speaking, or trouble understanding
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Feeling numb or weak in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden, very bad headache

Stroke is a medical emergency. If you or someone with you has signs of stroke, call 911 right away. The chances of survival and recovery from a stroke are better if you get emergency treatment immediately.

What’s the difference between a TIA and a stroke?
A stroke causes brain damage, and a TIA doesn’t.

TIA stands for transient ischemic (“is-KEM-ik”) attack. A TIA is when blood flow to the brain is blocked for a short period of time and there isn’t any damage to the brain. After you’ve had a TIA, you are at greater risk for a stroke.

The signs of a TIA are the same as the signs of a regular stroke, but they don’t last as long. Never ignore a TIA. Call 911 right away if you or someone with you has signs of stroke.

Take Action!

Take these steps today to reduce your risk of stroke.

Get your blood pressure checked.
High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke. Get your blood pressure checked at least every 2 years starting at age 18. Ask your doctor if you need to get it checked more often.

If your blood pressure is high, talk with your doctor or nurse about ways to lower it.

Quit smoking.
Not smoking is one of the best things you can do to prevent stroke. After you quit smoking, your risk of stroke and heart disease start to go down.

Take steps to prevent type 2 diabetes.
Having diabetes can increase your risk of stroke. You can help prevent type 2 diabetes by eating healthy and staying active. If you have diabetes, talk with your doctor about how to keep your blood sugar (glucose) in the normal range.

Get active.
Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes every week of moderate aerobic activity, like walking fast or biking.

Talk with a doctor about taking aspirin every day.
Aspirin can improve the flow of blood to the heart and brain. This lowers your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Aspirin is not recommended for everyone. Your doctor can help you decide if aspirin is the right choice for you.

Get your cholesterol checked.
Having high cholesterol can increase your risk of stroke. Talk with your doctor about having your cholesterol checked. If your cholesterol is high, you can take steps to lower it.

Eat healthy.
Follow a healthy diet to help keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control. Cut down on foods high in sodium (salt) and saturated fat. Get tips on how to eat less sodium.

Get enough sleep.
Sleep is important for staying healthy. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes people’s breathing to pause during sleep. Sleep apnea increases the risk of stroke in middle-aged men and women who have gone through menopause.

Talk to a doctor or nurse if you feel like you have trouble getting enough sleep.

Know your family’s health history.
Your family’s health history can give your doctor or nurse important information about your risk for stroke. Use this family health history tool to keep track of your family’s health. Share this information with your doctor or nurse.

Drink alcohol only in moderation.
Drinking too much can put you at risk for high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the major cause of stroke. If you drink alcohol, limit your drinking to no more than:

  • 1 drink a day for women
  • 2 drinks a day for men

Learn more about getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked.

Start Today: Small Steps

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Content last updated on: September 27, 2012

National Health Information Center

P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133