Outsmart stroke: 10 risk factors to watch for

Aug 8, 2023

Practicing a healthy lifestyle and managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels are big keys to preventing a stroke

More than 800,000 Americans have a stroke each year. But did you know that up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented?

Strokes happen when the brain doesn’t get enough blood, either because an artery burst or a clot blocked blood flow. To try to reduce your chances of experiencing a stroke, it’s important to know your risk factors and take preventative measures. Cristen Wood, St. Joseph's/Candler nurse

“It’s important to know your risks for any condition so you can live the life you want to live and take care of your family,” says Cristen Wood, St. Joseph’s/Candler Stroke Program coordinator. “It’s important to know any risk you may have and respond to them. You want to try to prevent any catastrophe from happening, and stroke can be life-changing for the patient, for their family and friends. It’s a huge event.”

Work with your healthcare provider to make lifestyle changes and manage risk factors such as:

  1. High blood pressure. High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke. It’s estimated that almost half of adults have high blood pressure. Get yours checked regularly.
  2. High cholesterol. When you take in more cholesterol than your body can use, it builds up, clogging arteries – including those in your brain. Your cholesterol levels can be checked with routine blood work at your doctor’s office.
  3. Unhealthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk for stroke. Obesity is also linked to high cholesterol and blood pressure. Try to get 150 minutes a week of physical activity that gets and keeps your heart rate up.
  4. Heart disease. Having coronary artery disease or an irregular heartbeat can contribute to stroke. To treat your condition, your provider might recommend surgery or medication. Always take medication as prescribed and don’t stop taking unless your doctor says so.
  5. Diabetes. People with diabetes have more than two times the stroke risk compared with those without the disease. Work with your provider to manage your blood glucose through diet, exercise and medication compliance.
  6. Unhealthy diet. Choosing the right foods can help prevent stroke. Eat foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol. Limit salt, get plenty of fiber and load up on fruits and vegetables.
  7. Not moving enough. Exercising helps you stay at a healthy weight and can lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity each week. Even if you can fit in only a few minutes at a time, it still makes a difference.
  8. Smoking. Cigarette smoking can damage heart and blood vessels, which increases your risk for stroke. Nicotine also raises blood pressure. Go smoke-free and your stroke risk drops in as little as five years. Learn about our smoking cessation program here.
  9. Drinking alcohol. Too many alcoholic beverages can raise your blood pressure. It’s important to limit your intake to just one drink per day for females and two for males.
  10. Stress. Stress can contribute to high blood pressure. Try positive self-talk to help relax during a tense situation. For instance, don’t think, ‘I can’t do this.’ Tell yourself, ‘I’ll do the best I can.’

Related Article: How stress can impact your heart’s health

“I strongly advocate for anybody who is curious about stroke risk to go to the American Heart Association, or heart.org,” Wood advices. “They have a lot of great information on exercise routines and recipes for heart-friendly diets, especially the Mediterranean diet, which limits red meats, sticks to lean cuts, limits diary and sugar and increases fruits and vegetables to help bring down that LDL (the bad cholesterol) level. The more colorful your plate is, usually the healthier it is.”

While this list can feel a little daunting, know that you don’t have to tackle everything right away. Every positive change goes a long way in helping lower your risk for stroke.


Coming Thursday: Did you know heart disease and stroke share some of the same risk factors? For a two-for-one health win, take our heart disease quiz and learn what you can do to lower your risk of both.

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