Preventing Stroke

NYU Langone physicians often recommend lifestyle changes to help prevent a stroke. A stroke occurs when a blockage in a blood vessel disrupts the flow of oxygen to the brain or when a blood vessel or artery in the brain bursts—spilling blood into nearby tissue. Reducing the brain’s oxygen supply for even a short time can damage brain tissue and cause problems with movement, sight, speech, or thinking.

A stroke can happen to anyone at any time, but the risk increases as you age. The chance of having a stroke approximately doubles each decade after age 55. Women are more likely than men to have a stroke, and the risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for people who are black as it is for people who are white.

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented. The major risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Medical conditions, such as diabetes, and unhealthy lifestyle habits can also increase the risk of having a stroke.

Although you can’t control all of the risk factors, such as age, ethnicity, family history, or whether you are male or female, you can take steps to prevent stroke and its complications. NYU Langone doctors may recommend the following lifestyle changes.

Control Blood Pressure 

The risk of stroke begins to increase at blood pressure readings consistently higher than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Blood pressure is considered high if it stays at or above 140/90 mmHg over time. High blood pressure, or hypertension, usually has no symptoms, so having your blood pressure checked regularly is important. 

You can check your blood pressure at a doctor’s office or at a pharmacy. If you have high blood pressure, a doctor might advise you to consume less sodium and make other lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly. If those strategies don’t lower your blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe medication.

Manage Diabetes 

If you have diabetes, it’s important to monitor your blood sugar levels and keep them in a healthy range. Your doctor may recommend certain lifestyle changes, such as exercising and losing weight, to help keep blood sugar under control and reduce your risk for stroke.

Maintain Heart Health

Addressing heart problems can help prevent a stroke. Certain conditions, such as coronary artery disease, atrial fibrillation, and cardiomyopathy can cause blood clots that can lead to a stroke. If you have a heart condition, your doctor can recommend an appropriate NYU Langone specialist to provide medical treatment. 

Lower Cholesterol 

If you have high cholesterol or a lipid disorder, medications and lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk for stroke. Your doctor should test your cholesterol levels at least once every five years—and more often if you have risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, or diabetes. 

Dietary changes, such as eating less saturated fat and trans fats, as well as cutting back on sugar and simple carbohydrates, may help to reduce plaque—a hard, waxy substance that contains cholesterol, fat, and calcium—in the arteries. If dietary changes alone don’t improve your cholesterol numbers, your doctor may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication.

Maintain a Healthy Weight 

Being overweight or obese increases your risk for stroke and contributes to other stroke risk factors, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. 

To determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate your body mass index, or BMI, which is a measure of body fat in relation to height and weight. Losing as few as 10 pounds may lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol levels.

Exercise Regularly

Physical activity can reduce your blood pressure and help you maintain a healthy weight. It can lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and improve the health of your blood vessels and heart. Exercise also helps you reduce stress and control diabetes. 

Many experts recommend that adults aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or bicycling, at least 5 days a week.

Stop Smoking

Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for stroke by damaging blood vessels and raising blood pressure. Smoking also may reduce the amount of oxygen that reaches your body's tissues. 

Quitting smoking lowers your risk for stroke. Specialists in NYU Langone’s Tobacco Cessation Programs can suggest ways to help you quit.

Consume Alcohol in Moderation

Drinking alcohol can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of stroke. Experts may recommend no more than one drink a day for women and two a day for men.