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Stroke Smart Magazine

Fall 2009

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Reduce the Risk
Lifestyle Changes Can Limit the Likelihood of Stroke

A Harvard University Nurses Health study found that women who eat lots of whole grain foods – the equivalent of two to three slices of whole-grain bread daily – can reduce the risk of stroke by as much as 40 percent. Research at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine and the Colorado School of Public Health indicates that taking aspirin regularly might reduce the risk of stroke in patients with peripheral artery disease (PAD). 

These are only two examples of many promising stroke prevention studies under way across the globe. However, the best way to reduce your risk is still to know – and act on – the factors that lead to stroke.

Everyone has some stroke risk, but many strokes can be prevented with basic lifestyle changes. Every year, about 795,000 Americans have a stroke, causing the deaths of 144,000 and forever changing the lives of survivors. There are two main categories of risk factors — controllable and uncontrollable. It is important to understand both types of risk factors. Controllable risk factors include both lifestyle and medical factors.

Lifestyle Factors:

Many risk factors leading to stroke are up to you. You can control and reduce lifestyle risk factors by:

  • Quitting smoking: Smoking doubles the risk for stroke. If you stop smoking today, your risk for stroke will begin to decrease.
  • Exercising regularly: A brisk walk, swim or other exercise activity for as little as 30 minutes a day can improve your health and might reduce your risk for stroke.
  • Watching what and how much you eat: By cutting down on sodium and fat in your diet, you might be able to lower your blood pressure and lower your risk for stroke.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption: Drinking a glass of wine or beer or one drink each day can lower your risk for stroke (provided that there is no other medical reason you should avoid alcohol). Remember alcohol is a drug and can interact with other drugs you are taking.

Medical Factors:

Regular medical checkups can detect many factors that lead to stroke that might otherwise go unnoticed. These factors include:

  • Diabetes.
  • High cholesterol.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Heart disease.
  • Atrial fibrillation and carotid artery disease.

These medical risk factors can be controlled through medication and/or lifestyle changes. It is important to take your medication as prescribed by your doctor. If you have side effects, discuss them with your doctor.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors:

Some stroke risks are out of your control, such as:

  • Being over age 55.
  • Being male.
  • Being African-American, Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander.
  • Having a family history of stroke. 
  • Previous stroke.
  • Previous transient ischemic attack or “TIA.”

There is no quick fix or single way to reduce the risk of stroke. Talk with your health care provider about what will work best for you. Educating yourself and your family about stroke risk factors and working with your health care professional to manage your risk is the best way to prevent a stroke. 

Call 911 if:

Stroke symptoms come on suddenly. You might be having a stroke if:

  • You have numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg – especially on one side of the body.
  • You’re confused and have trouble speaking or understanding.
  • You’re having trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • You have a hard time walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • You have a severe headache with no known cause.


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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

National Stroke Association

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