Preventing Stroke

You can greatly reduce your chance of having a stroke by controlling risk factors.

Strokes are usually the result of a combination of factors that have been present or developing for a long period of time. If someone has two or more of the risk factors below, stroke risk is dramatically increased.

Anyone who is high risk should see their doctor who will usually assess each risk factor for stroke (and heart disease) before deciding on necessary treatments.

Here are some simple rules to reduce stroke risk:

1. Get your blood pressure checked

Because it is one of the greatest stroke risk factors, failure to detect and control high blood pressure is the number one cause of avoidable strokes. A person with high blood pressure is up to seven times more likely to have a stroke than someone with normal or low blood pressure.

High blood pressure puts too much pressure and stress on the walls of blood vessels and increases the risk of both haemorrhages and blood clots.

2. Stop smoking

Smoking quadruples stroke risk. Chemicals and gases in tobacco smoke speed up the process of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and make blood vessels throughout the body tighten, reducing blood flow. Smoking also makes the blood more likely to clot, especially inside damaged blood vessels.

Talk to a GP for advice and support, or call the Smoking Quit Line on 0800 778 778.

Note: If you smoke and have high blood pressure you are 18 times more likely to have a stroke than someone the same age who doesn’t smoke and has normal blood pressure.

3. Exercise regularly

People who are physically inactive have greater stroke risk than those who keep active. Being physically inactive over a long period is linked to high blood pressure, a leading cause of strokes.

4. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink

Studies now show that drinking up to two small alcoholic drinks a day can reduce stroke risk – but drinking any more than that increases stroke risk by as much as three times. A drinking binge creates as much as five times greater risk. Regular heavy drinking increases stroke risk because it can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of haemorrhage in the brain.

5. Eat a healthy diet and reduce salt intake

Cutting down on fat and salt should lower a person's blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Too much fat in a diet can cause silting of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which can cause strokes. Too much salt can raise blood pressure and this also can cause strokes.

6. Lower your cholesterol

Cholesterol is essential to the body’s cells and normally the body will produce all the cholesterol it requires. Consuming foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats may accelerate atherosclerosis. Keep on top of cholesterol levels by having a blood test and by being prepared to change your eating habits.

If necessary, a doctor might also prescribe a cholesterol lowering drug (called lipid-lowering agents, usually a ‘statin’).

7. Find out if you have atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a type of irregular heartbeat. People with this condition have a five times greater stroke risk because the irregular heartbeat may lead to blood clots forming in the heart. These can then break off and travel though the blood vessels to the brain where they may cut off blood supply, causing a stroke.

If someone suspects they have atrial fibrillation, it is important to see a doctor. The doctor might prescribe tablets to make the blood less sticky and less likely to form clots (warfarin) and make the heartbeat more regular.

8. Control your weight

Being overweight strains the entire circulatory system and creates higher cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and diabetes – all of which increase stroke risk.