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Stroke Risk Factors and Prevention Guidelines

Everyone has some stroke risk. Some risk factors, according to the American Stroke Association, are beyond our control, including age, sex, race, diabetes, and family history. If you have one of these risk factors, it is even more important to learn about the lifestyle and medical changes you can make to prevent a stroke.

Medical conditions

Medical conditions that increase stroke risk include previous stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA or "mini stroke"), high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, atrial fibrillation, carotid artery disease, and diabetes. These factors can be controlled and managed, even if you have already had issues with any of them in the past. Talk with your doctor about what will work best for you.


Lifestyle factors that contribute to stroke risk include smoking, being overweight, and drinking too much alcohol. You can control these lifestyle risk factors by quitting smoking, exercising regularly, watching what and how much you eat, and limiting alcohol consumption.


A family history of stroke increases the chance you will have one, too. Age is also a factor. The older you are, the more likely you are to have a stroke. Men, especially among African-Americans and Hispanics, are at the greatest risk.

Prevention guidelines

  • Know your blood pressure. If it is elevated, work with your doctor to keep it under control. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke. Having your blood pressure checked at least once a year—more often if you have a history of high blood pressure.
  • Find out if you have atrial fibrillation (AF). If you do, work with your doctor to manage it. Atrial fibrillation can cause blood to collect in your heart's chambers and form clots.
  • If you smoke, stop. Smoking doubles the risk for stroke. If you stop smoking today, your risk for stroke will begin to decrease.
  • Do not use recreational or street drugs. These can increase your risk for stroke. For more information and resources about how to quit, visit our Addiction Psychiatry page.
  • If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Alcohol is a drug. It can interact with other drugs you are taking and is harmful if taken in large doses.
  • Know your cholesterol number. The CDC advises that your healthcare provider tests your cholesterol levels at least once very five years. If it is high, work with your doctor to control it. High cholesterol increases stroke risk by putting you at greater risk of heart disease, an important stroke risk factor. Cholesterol levels often can be controlled with diet and exercise; some people may require medication.
  • Control your diabetes. Follow your doctor's recommendations carefully because diabetes puts you at an increased risk for stroke. Your physician may prescribe a nutrition program, lifestyle changes, and medication.
  • Include exercise in your daily routine. A brisk walk, swim, or other exercise for as little as 30 minutes a day can improve your health in many ways while reducing your risk for stroke.
  • Enjoy a diet with less sodium (salt) and fat. By cutting down on sodium and fat, you may lower blood pressure and your risk for stroke.
  • Ask if you have circulation problems. If your doctor determines that you do, work to control them. Fatty deposits can block arteries that carry blood from your heart to your brain. Sickle cell disease, severe anemia, or other diseases can cause stroke if untreated.
If you have any stroke symptoms, call 911 for immediate medical attention.