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Information from Your Family Doctor
How to Prevent a Stroke
Am Fam Physician. 2003 Dec 15;68(12):2389-2390.
What is a stroke?
A stroke happens when there is a problem with the blood supply to a part of the brain. The area of the brain that does not get enough blood becomes damaged.
A stroke can happen when a blood clot blocks an artery in the brain. A stroke also can happen when the wall of an artery bursts.
Depending on which part of the brain has poor blood supply, a stroke can be mild to severe. Here are some problems strokes can cause:
Problems with moving (including paralysis)
Problems with feeling
Loss of vision
Problems with thinking, understanding, or communicating (that is, problems with speaking, reading, or writing)
Changes in emotion or behavior
What increases my risk of having a stroke?
Strokes can happen in anyone, but they tend to be more common in older men, black people, and Asian people. Although we cannot change our age, gender, or race, we can control the following risk factors for stroke:
High cholesterol levels
High blood pressure
Heavy alcohol use
Atrial fibrillation, which is an unsteady heart rhythm (say: ay-tree-all fib-rill-ay-shun)
What can I do to lower my risk of having a stroke?
Here are some things everyone can do to lower their chances of having a stroke—these things will also lower your risk of having a heart attack:
Get your blood pressure checked regularly and get treatment if it is high. High blood pressure is a “silent” illness with no warning signs.
If you smoke—stop! Ask your family doctor for ways to help you quit.
Eat low-fat foods, and have your cholesterol levels checked by your family doctor.
Exercise regularly—for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
Keep your weight under control. If you are overweight, lose weight.
If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar levels. Controlling your diabetes will help your heart, kidneys, eyes, and brain.
Can medicine help lower my risk of stroke?
Medicines can help prevent strokes in some people. If you need one of these medicines, your family doctor will prescribe it for you.
If you have high blood pressure, and diet, exercise, and weight loss do not control it, you may need to take medicine to lower your blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure in people who have hypertension is the most important way to prevent stroke.
If your cholesterol level is high and exercise and diet do not lower it, you may need to take a cholesterol-lowering medicine.
If you have atrial fibrillation, you may need to take a blood thinner such as warfarin (brand name: Coumadin).
Aspirin can lower the risk of stroke in some people. However, aspirin is not for everyone. There are risks associated with taking aspirin every day.
Where can I find more information about stroke prevention?
Talk to your doctor about what you can do to lower your risk of having a stroke. You also can contact one of these groups:
American Heart Association (AHA) and
American Stroke Association (ASA) National Centers
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX 75231
AHA telephone: 1-800-242-8721
AHA Web site: http://www.americanheart.org
ASA telephone: 1-888-478-7653
ASA Web site: http://www.strokeassociation.org
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Information Center
PO. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
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 © 2003 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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