May 1, 1999 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Preventing Stroke: Some Good Advice

Am Fam Physician. 1999 May 1;59(9):2485.

See related article on stroke.

What is a stroke?

When an artery that carries blood to the brain is blocked or breaks, it damages the brain. We call this damage a “stroke.” Strokes can be mild, severe or even fatal. Most people who have strokes are 60 or older, but younger people can also have strokes.

In the past few years, we've learned some ways to prevent stroke. You and your doctor can work together to lower your risk of stroke.

What increases my risk of stroke?

Strokes tend to occur in older people. They happen more often in men than in women. They also happen more often in blacks than in whites. These are risk factors that we can't change.

However, we can treat some risk factors for stroke, such as:

  • High blood pressure (also called hypertension)

  • Diabetes (also called high blood sugar)

  • Tobacco use

  • High cholesterol (high fat levels in the blood)

  • A heart rhythm problem called “atrial fibrillation”

  • A warning stroke called a “transient ischemic attack” (or TIA)

If you have any of these conditions, talk with your doctor about treatments that can lower your risk of stroke.

What is a warning stroke?

It's very important for you to know the symptoms of a warning stroke (TIA). When you have a TIA, one side or one area of your body goes numb or weak for a short time (often five minutes or less). During this time, you may not be able to talk, or your words may come out slurred and wrong. You may not see very well.

Because these symptoms don't last long and usually don't cause pain, some people ignore a TIA. People who have a TIA are 10 times more likely to have a stroke. If you have a TIA, you should see your doctor within a day or two.

If a TIA lasts longer than 15 minutes, you might be having a stroke. You should call “911” and go right to a hospital.

Does aspirin prevent stroke?

Aspirin can lower your risk of stroke. Your doctor may want you to take an aspirin every day if you've had a TIA, a stroke, heart pain or a heart attack.

Aspirin can cause bleeding in your stomach or intestines, however. Talk to your doctor about whether taking aspirin every day to prevent stroke is safe for you.


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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