6 Ways to Reduce Your Stroke Risks

Stroke: It’s the less outspoken cousin of the heart attack. Many fear the latter, but the former is the fifth leading cause of death in America, according to the American Stroke Association. And, it’s the leading cause of adult disability. So even if you do survive a stroke, your quality of life may change dramatically. What’s more? Stroke is largely preventable. Knowing your risk factors and how to reduce them could save your life.

Risk Factors

Javier Lopez, M.D., a neurologist and medical director of the Stroke Program at South Miami Hospital, places risk factors for stroke into two categories – those that can be controlled or modified and those that cannot.

Dr. Lopez, who is also affiliated with the Baptist Health Neuroscience Center, admits there’s little that can be done to change your age, sex, family history or ethnicity. Still, these are known risk factors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • While a stroke can happen at any age, your risk doubles every decade of life after the age of 55.
  • Women suffer from more strokes each year than men, and strokes kill twice as many women as does breast cancer each year.
  • The stroke risk doubles for African Americans; Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders also have higher risk of stroke than Caucasians.

“What we focus on to reduce stroke risk are those modifiable risk factors that stem from our lifestyles,” Dr. Lopez said. These risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure, or hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol, or above-normal levels of triglycerides, known as hyperlipidemia
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Sleep apnea
Reducing Your Risks

Of the risk factors that can be controlled, Dr. Lopez says these six lifestyle changes will help reduce your chance of having a stroke.

  1. Lower your blood pressure. Whether by improving your diet to reduce salt intake and increase your daily consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains or through medication prescribed by your doctor, keeping blood pressure down reduces the weakening of blood vessels that can lead to clot formation.
  2. Control your blood sugar. Too much glucose in your blood can lead to damage of your nerves, blood vessels and organs such as kidneys, eyes and the heart. Reducing the amount of carbohydrates that require insulin to break them down in the body – or carefully following a doctor’s prescription for insulin or other medications to lower blood sugar – will diminish your stroke risk.
  3. Lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Cholesterol and fat, in the form of triglycerides, circulating in our blood often leads to atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in our blood vessels. When this occurs, blood clots can form and break free, traveling through the arteries leading to the brain. Once a blood clot reaches a blood vessel through which it can’t pass, it prevents the blood flow to that part of the brain – a stroke. Following the advice of a primary care doctor to limit the amount of these substances in your blood, or working with a cardiologist or neurologist to find the right medication to help reduce these substances, can greatly reduce your chance of having a stroke.
  4. Stop smoking. Nicotine and other chemicals found in cigarettes, including e-cigarettes, contribute to the formation of blood clots that can go to the brain. Quitting smoking eliminates your risk of stroke from those chemicals.
  5. Exercise. Aerobic exercise – walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling – three times a week will keep your heart and blood vessels in shape to reduce the risk of damage that can lead to stroke.
  6. Maintain a healthy body weight. Being overweight can contribute to an increase in diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and sleep apnea. Maintaining a normal Body Mass Index will help you reduce your stroke risk.

Of course, Dr. Lopez says individuals who have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, commonly referred to as A-Fib, or heart disease, or those who have suffered transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), or “mini strokes,” or have had a prior stroke, should take the extra precautions their doctors have undoubtedly discussed with them.

For everyone else, though, knowing your risks and how to minimize them, he says, puts you one step ahead of preventing the devastating and deadly effects of stroke.


Dr. Lopez will discuss, in depth, stroke risk factors and prevention, along with signs, symptoms and treatments at a free program and health fair “Be Stroke Smart” on Saturday, May 14, 8:30 a.m.-12 noon at South Miami Hospital’s Victor E. Clarke Education Center.

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