Preventing Stroke: 8 Ways to Lower Your Odds

Every year, nearly 800,000 people suffer a stroke. It’s the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of long-term, chronic disability.

However, eighty percent of strokes (four out of five) are preventable. Some risk factors, like your age and family history, are out of your hands. But there are several risk factors for stroke that you can impact. Here are 8 ways to help lower your odds of having a stroke.

  1. Eat heart-healthy foods. These include fruits, vegetables, high-fiber foods, and foods that are low in sodium, saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. Try to eat fish at least twice a week. Oily fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, are best. These fish include salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring and sardines.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight makes you more likely to have high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes. These conditions make a stroke more likely. Your target blood pressure should be 120/80. Take your blood pressure twice a day and record the measurement to share with your doctor.
  3. Get moving. Being inactive or obese can increase your risk of stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease. Increasing your activity by 30 minutes a day can provide many health benefits and reduce your risk of these diseases.
  4. Get your zzzzzzs. Researchers have discovered a link between people getting less than six hours of sleep a night and stroke. Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that affects your breathing, is also associated with stroke risk factors like high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, heart failure and diabetes. If you or your partner snore, talk to your doctor about getting a sleep study to check for sleep apnea.
  5. De-stress. When you’re feeling stressed, your hormones increase your blood pressure. If those hormones stick around for a while, it can lead to elevated blood pressure, which is a leading cause of stroke. Try to find something that helps you keep calm, whether it’s meditation, a massage or a run through the park.
  6. Quit smoking. Many diseases are linked to smoking, including: heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and respiratory problems. Stopping smoking greatly reduces your risk of these diseases.
  7. Limit alcohol intake. Binge drinking can lead to stroke, as can regular alcohol use. Higher blood pressure occurs in women who average more than one drink per day, and men who drink an average of more than two drinks per day.
  8. Get regular checkups. Talk to your primary care doctor about regular screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index (BMI) and blood glucose. All of these tests can help determine how high your risk is for stroke.

If your doctor has prescribed medication, make sure you’re following the directions to help keep those risk factors in check.

Quick action is the most important factor in treating stroke.

Make sure you’re familiar with the signs and symptoms. An easy way to remember the signs and symptoms of stroke is to B.E.F.A.S.T.

  • = Balance: Does the person complain of sudden onset unsteadiness, dizziness or difficulty walking? 
  • = Eyes: Does the person complain of narrowing vision, blurred vision, seeing dark or bright spots? 
  • = Face: Ask the person to smile & show their teeth. Is the smile even or lop-sided? 
  • = Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms and hold them straight out. Does one arm drift downward? 
  • = Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Do words sound slurred or garbled? 
  • = Time: Knowing the time when the person was last seen “normal” helps determine the course of treatment and improve outcomes.