What can I do to reduce my risk of stroke?

By: R. Alejandro Cruz, MD
Neuroscience Institute

When we talk about the risk of having a stroke, we divide these risks in modifiable risk factors and non-modifiable risk factors. Non-modifiable risk factors include age, race, gender, and family history of stroke. We cannot modify neither of these risk factors, hence the name non-modifiable.

Modifiable risk factors on the other hand are factors that we can control if we learn to identify them and how to control them.

1. High blood pressure is the biggest modifiable risk factor that can double the risk of having a stroke. Monitoring your blood pressure and pursuing medical treatment from your primary care provider is key. Low salt intake, exercise, and eating fruit and vegetables are strategies recommended to improve blood pressure control.

2. Obesity comes with several complications including high blood pressure, high lipids, and diabetes, raising your risk of having a stroke. Losing weight through exercise, diet, and in some cases bariatric surgery, can decrease your risk of stroke significantly.

3. Exercise not only helps with obesity and high blood pressure control, but it also decreases the risk of stroke independently. It is recommended to exercise for 30 minutes three to four times a week. Daily recommendations include taking the stairs instead of an elevator, take daily walks, and establish an exercise routine with a cardio work out.

4. Drinking alcohol is another risk factor for stroke, some studies have shown that one alcoholic drink a day might reduce your risk of stroke, however more than two drinks a day increases the risks of stroke significantly.

5. Atrial fibrillation is a type of cardiac arrhythmia that causes blood clots to be generated in the heart, which then travels to the brain producing stroke. Symptoms of atrial fibrillation could be only heart palpitations and shortness of breath; it is important to seek medical attention if you experience these symptoms. If atrial fibrillation is found, a blood thinner will likely be needed.

6. Diabetes also increases your risk of stroke as high glucose in the blood can damage the blood vessel’s wall and with this precipitate the formation of blood clots. Adequate control of blood glucose with adequate screening from your primary care provider is recommended.

7. Smoking increases your risk factors for stroke significantly, it does this by thickening the blood and by increasing the amount of plaque within the blood vessel walls.

If you or someone you know would like more information on stroke, please call the DHR Health Neuroscience Institute at (956) 362- 8500.