How to Prevent a Stroke

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Stroke prevention involves lifestyle strategies like smoking cessation and medical treatments that include blood pressure control and diabetes management. Sometimes a surgical intervention such as carotid endarterectomy or brain aneurysm repair is indicated for stroke prevention.

Since most people don't experience symptoms that signal a high stroke risk, prevention also involves health screening for risk factors such as high cholesterol and heart disease. And many of the methods that help prevent stroke also help prevent cardiovascular disease, so stroke prevention has a wide-ranging positive impact on your health.

Stroke is a leading cause of disability and death in the United States. A 2010 landmark study titled INTERSTROKE that included more than 13,000 people from 22 countries revealed that at least 90% of stroke risk factors can be modified to reduce the chances of having a stroke.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Your everyday routines affect your stroke risk. Lifestyle modifications in your diet, exercise, smoking habits, and alcohol intake can all help decrease your likelihood of having a stroke. And these issues can have an effect at any age, so it's never too early or too late to take action.

Stop Smoking

Smoking is the leading lifestyle risk factor for stroke. Smoking is estimated to subtract 10 years from a person's lifespan, and the strong link to stroke plays a role in that effect.

Smoking cessation is challenging. The chance of successfully quitting is highest if you seek professional help and plan for accountability rather than doing it alone. Smoking cessation aids, such as patches, can help minimize withdrawal symptoms as you try to break the addiction.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Obesity increases stroke risk. You can find out your ideal weight range by using a body mass index (BMI) chart. If you are overweight, diet and exercise might do the trick, but it's likely you also could benefit from professional guidance using a diet and exercise program tailored for you by your doctor, a dietitian, or a health coach.

Being underweight isn't healthy either—low body weight makes it hard for your body to recover from a stroke.

Improve Your Diet

A healthy diet includes eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, dodging fast food, and steering clear of trans fats for a longevity diet plan. And for many people, special dietary considerations are part of stroke prevention too.

You might need to watch your calories if you're overweight, or cut back on dietary salt if you have high blood pressure, or stay away from excess sugar if you have diabetes.

Keep in mind a healthy diet for stroke prevention also means getting your vitamins and minerals. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency can increase the risk of stroke and vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps prevent stroke.

Exercise

Lack of exercise contributes to stroke risk. It can be extremely difficult to start exercising if you are too busy or if you simply don't like doing it. Nevertheless, there is evidence that even moderate activity like walking or gentle yoga is better for stroke prevention than a sedentary lifestyle.

Physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight, improves cholesterol levels, and lowers blood pressure—and using healthy lifestyle habits to tackle these problems can make your medication more effective and may even reduce or eliminate your need for medication.

Limit Alcohol, Avoid Binge Drinking

Heavy alcohol intake and binge drinking can increase your stroke risk. Drinking excessive alcohol has wide-ranging effects on the body, many of which also increase the risk of strokes—such as malnutrition and blood clotting issues.

Moderating your alcohol intake is not easy if you have a tendency to drink heavily. As with smoking cessation, professional guidance can help as you try to quit. Alcohol withdrawal can be physically dangerous, and the emotional effects of giving up alcohol can be overwhelming for some people. That said, the health, emotional, and relationship benefits of avoiding excessive alcohol are substantial.

Prescriptions

Living a healthy lifestyle makes it easier to manage chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. However, you might need to take prescription medications if you have a medically treatable condition that puts you at risk of stroke.

High Blood Pressure

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the biggest contributor to stroke. This condition doesn't usually cause any symptoms until it's too late. While dietary modifications and regular exercise can help control high blood pressure, it's important you take medication to lower your blood pressure if these strategies don't work.

There are a variety of antihypertensive medications. The one (or ones) your doctor prescribes for you will be based on other health factors, such as whether you have diabetes, kidney disease, heart problems, or a pulmonary condition. If you start taking a prescription antihypertensive, it is vital to follow up with your doctor regularly to make sure that your blood pressure is well controlled so you won't experience adverse health outcomes of hypertension.

Diabetes

Diabetes is a risk factor for stroke. If you have diabetes, pre-diabetes, or borderline high glucose, your doctor will recommend dietary modification and prescription treatments to keep your blood sugar in an optimal range.

You will also need to learn how to monitor your blood sugar and make medication adjustments when your glucose level fluctuates.

Cholesterol

Your lipid levels—which include cholesterol and other fats—have an impact on your stroke risk. Low HDL cholesterol and/or high LDL cholesterol and triglycerides increase your risk of having a stroke. Diet and exercise are recommended to help balance these nutrients, but medications, such as statins, are usually necessary as well. 

Heart Disease

Heart diseases such as coronary artery disease (CAD), arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), or heart valve disease can lead to stroke. Medications that regulate your heart rate or blood thinners that reduce the risk of a blood clot can help prevent a stroke.

While aspirin is a common over-the-counter blood thinner used for stroke prevention, you should only use it as directed by your doctor.

Stress and Depression

Both stress and depression can contribute to stroke. It's important to seek medical help if you notice you're having issues with your mood. There are effective treatments, including prescription medications, counseling, and cognitive therapy.

Anxiety and depression can be signs of an underlying illness like thyroid disease, so it is important that you talk to your doctor about how you are feeling.

Surgeries and Specialist Driven Procedures

In some cases, a structural problem can increase stroke risk and may need to be addressed surgically. These issues are typically detected with diagnostic tests that aren't necessarily standard on a routine physical check-up. But if you have a transient ischemic attack (TIA), you are likely to get the tests that can identify these problems.

Carotid End Arterectomy (CEA)

A CEA is a surgical procedure used to repair narrowing and disease of one of the carotid arteries—two large blood vessels on either side of the neck that supply the brain with blood. Sometimes, a minimally invasive procedure is used to repair the artery.

A carotid ultrasound, a magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA), or a computerized tomography angiogram (CTA) are non-invasive tests used to identify these lesions.

Not all carotid disease can be repaired, and your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of your specific situation with you.

Heart Surgery

Some types of heart disease pose a high stroke risk. An arrhythmia, heart valve disease, and CAD can lead to blood clots that travel from the heart to the brain.

Heart surgery such as coronary artery bypass graft (CABG), valve repair, or pacemaker or defibrillator placement can substantially reduce the risk of a stroke in some instances.

Cerebrovascular Repair

An abnormally shaped blood vessel in the brain can rupture and bleed or might be obstructed by a blood clot, potentially leading to a stroke. A brain aneurysm is an out-pouching of an artery in the brain, and an arteriovenous malformation is a malformation of veins and arteries.

Depending on the size and exact location of a vascular irregularity in the brain, a repair can be beneficial.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

There are natural therapies that you can also use to help reduce your risk of stroke. Complementary therapies may also play a role in alleviating some of the medical issues that contribute to stroke.

Daily meditation has been shown to reduce stroke risk, which may be linked to the effect of meditation on blood pressure control. Experts suggest that mindfulness and meditation can be used as an adjunct to antihypertensive prescriptions.

Ginger is also linked to lower stroke risk. It is important to know that ginger is a blood thinner—so taking it regularly, especially in supplement form, can increase the risk of bleeding.

Not only has regular intake of dietary garlic been linked to lower stroke risk but regularly eating garlic before having a stroke also is associated with better stroke recovery. This could be associated with garlic's possible effects on cholesterol and blood pressure.

While these approaches can't eliminate the chance of stroke, they can be used along with more conventional methods to help reduce some of the risk factors. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements to see if they are safe for you.

A Word From Verywell

Reducing your risk of stroke includes maintaining healthy habits as well as addressing your own specific stroke risk factors. Since so many stroke risk factors are not symptomatic until they reach an advanced—and dangerous—point, getting your health check-ups regularly is an important part of preventing stroke too.

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