10 Signs That You Are at Risk of Stroke

Would you know if you were at risk of stroke? While there is no absolute way to know that you will or will not ever have a stroke in your lifetime, there are signs that you are at high risk of stroke. The good news is that you can do something about every one of these signs so you can significantly lower your stroke risk.

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1. You Have High Blood Pressure

Having consistently high blood pressure, a condition called hypertension, is a risk factor for stroke. The good news is that high blood pressure can be managed with medication, diet, and lifestyle adjustments such as lowering stress and not smoking. Make sure you see your doctor to find out what your blood pressure is and, under your doctor’s supervision, start making changes.

If you are pregnant your doctor will take extra care to manage your blood pressure. Stroke prevention guidelines specific to women from the American Heart Association recommend that pregnant women with hypertension take low-dose aspirin from 12 weeks of gestation until delivery. Pregnant women with severe hypertension should be treated with safe and effective medications.

2. You Have Chronically High Blood Sugar

Erratic blood sugar, chronically elevated blood sugar, or uncontrolled diabetes can damage blood vessels, increasing your risk of stroke. Make sure to see your doctor regularly so that you can get appropriate diabetes screening and proper treatment through diet or medication, as necessary.

3. You Smoke

Smoking is a hard habit to break, but it is critical for stroke prevention as the behavior substantially increases your risk. The good news is that, despite this risk and the other harmful effects on your health, much of the damage can be undone once you quit.

4. You Don't Get Enough Exercise

Exercise is easy to ignore. It can seem like a hassle. It can be tough to start exercising if you have aches and pains, but it is critical for improving your overall heart health - including stroke risk reduction. Whether you are healthy or if you have already had a serious stroke—there are safe and easy exercises that can keep you fit while decreasing your stroke risk.

5. You Have High Cholesterol

High cholesterol is an important risk factor for stoke. It is important to keep an eye on your cholesterol levels and work to ensure you are in a healthy range to help reduce your risk for this and other cardiovascular conditions. The optimal cholesterol range for both men and women over the age of 20 is 125 mg/dL to 200 mg/dL. Your doctor can help guide you through dietary choices to help lower your cholesterol numbers. Beyond diet there are a few factors that can influence your cholesterol levels, including genetic factors, that can influence whether or not you need treatment.

6. You Drink Too Much Alcohol

While one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men is considered to be acceptable, drinking more can raise your blood pressure and triglycerides. This effect will contribute to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and increase your risk of stroke.

7. You Are Obese

If you are obese, you have an increased chance of other stroke risk factors including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. The steps you can take to lose excess weight will reduce your risk, so it is wise to start eating a healthy diet and getting more exercise.

8. You Don't Take Your Medications

Most stroke risk factors can be managed, but that requires regularly taking your medications, refilling prescriptions and getting routine checkups in case any of your doses need to be adjusted. Take good care of your health. You deserve it, even if it is a bit of a hassle.

9. You Don't Get Medical Attention for Your Heart Disease

If you have shortness of breath when you walk or exert yourself, or if you experience chest pain, it is important for you to seek medical attention. Heart disease is a major risk factor for stroke, and any form of chest pain is cause for concern. Your doctor can help determine the exact cause and get you on the right treatment path.

10. You Ignore TIAs

Most people wouldn't recognize a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Take just a few minutes to familiarize yourself with stroke and TIA symptoms. If you have had any of these signs or symptoms, you need to get medical attention right away, because a TIA is the loudest warning sign that you are at risk of stroke.

A Word From Verywell

These 10 signs that you are at risk of a stroke are serious and should never be taken lightly. Make sure you get the right stroke preventative medical attention for yourself or for someone you care about.

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  1. Mayo Clinic. High blood pressure (hypertension). Last reviewed May 12, 2018.

  2. Bushnell C, McCullough LD, Awad IA, et al. Guidelines for the prevention of stroke in women: a statement for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2014 May;45(5):1545-88. doi: 10.1161/01.str.0000442009.06663.48.

  3. Chen R, Ovbiagele B, Feng W. Diabetes and Stroke: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, Pharmaceuticals and OutcomesAm J Med Sci. 2016;351(4):380-386. doi:10.1016/j.amjms.2016.01.011

  4. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking and Heart Disease and Stroke. Last reviewed March 23, 2020.

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Cholesterol Numbers: What Do They Mean. Last reviewed July 31, 2020.

  6. Mitchell AB, Cole JW, McArdle PF, et al. Obesity increases risk of ischemic stroke in young adultsStroke. 2015;46(6):1690-1692. doi:10.1161/STROKEAHA.115.008940

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