Doctors Reveal 15 Things You Should Do to Avoid Having a Stroke

When it comes to strokes, many people find out about their risk too late. Can you imagine waking up in a hospital bed, unable to talk? Your family is there comforting you, but you don’t know what’s going on. Then you hear the doctor say stroke, and your whole world turns upside down. You know you have a long, hard journey ahead of you.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You have more control over your health than you might think. There are plenty of things you can do right now to lower your stroke risk. Here are the 15 things doctors recommend you should do to avoid having a stroke. Women, in particular, might be surprised about No. 13.

1. Keep your blood pressure under control

A doctor checks a woman's blood pressure
A woman having her blood pressure taken | Media for Medical/UIG via Getty Images

The top contributing factor for people who have had a stroke is high blood pressure. It is often called the silent killer, because many people don’t know they have hypertension until they have a major medical event, like a stroke or heart attack.

It’s essential to check your blood pressure as often as your doctor recommends and to take medication if you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension. You may also need to make lifestyle changes, and address any obstacles that might be standing your way of living a healthy life.

Next: Kick this habit to the curb.

2. If you smoke, try to quit

Packs of menthol cigarettes
Packs of cigarettes | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

If you are a smoker, now is the time to quit. Every year of smoking decreases your body’s ability to circulate blood, oxygen, and vital nutrients effectively. This is why smokers have a much higher stroke risk than non-smokers. Much higher, in fact, than any other demographic regardless of age, gender, or genes.

On the other hand, each year without cigarettes reduces your risk dramatically. Talk to your doctor if you need help kicking the habit for good. You can also visit smokefree.gov for helpful tips and support.

Next: No one wants to hear this next tip.

3. Lose those extra pounds

People on treadmills
Row of treadmills | Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Sure, telling someone to lose weight seems easier said than done, but it’s worth the hard work. There are plenty of reasons to lose weight, but when it comes to strokes, being overweight or obese can mean the difference between life and death.

If you have been trying to lose weight, but struggle to stay motivated, you may want to reassess your goals. If your goal is to look better in jeans, and you’re still not motivated, change your goal. Maybe try setting a goal on how many days in a row you can exercise or focus on increasing how long you’re working out for.

Next: You need this every day.

4. Get up and move more

Active senior couple
Active couple | lordn/iStock/Getty Images

You’ve probably heard that sitting is the new smoking and it’s true. Leading a sedentary lifestyle is a sure fire way to develop health problems. If you knew that daily exercise could prevent a future stroke, would you exercise every day?

Most people aren’t active enough. It’s evident by the increase of obesity, diabetes, and stroke in the U.S. If you want a healthy heart that keeps ticking, you need to get it pumping. Get up and move more to reduce your risk of stroke.

Next: Listen to your heart.

5. Identify and manage atrial fibrillation

Patient telling doctor about pain in her chest
Patient talking to doctor about chest pain | LittleBee80/iStock/Getty Images

Atrial fibrillation or AFib affects 22 million people in America. People with AFib have a higher risk of developing a blood clot because blood might pool around the heart due to an irregular heartbeat. The chambers of the heart are pumping unpredictably and some times too quickly.

If a blood clot forms and gets pushed out to the circulatory system, it is like a ticking time bomb. If you suspect you have atrial fibrillation, talk to your doctor for an assessment. It’s never too late to start showing your heart some love.

Next: This might be your wake up call.

6. Aggressively treat mini-strokes

Head scan results
Images from a head scan | utah778/iStock/Getty Images

Treat a transient ischemic stroke, also referred to as a mini-stroke, aggressively. Many people that have a full-blown stroke never have any warning. If you suffered a mini-stroke, you are at an extremely high risk of having a more massive stroke in the future.

Depending on the severity of the condition, treatment may include over-the-counter or prescription medications. You might also be asked to make lifestyle changes. Some people even require surgery to help prevent further episodes.

Next: Keep your circulation running smoothly.

7. Treat circulatory problems

Nurse drawing blood
Blood draw | Jovanmandic/iStock/Getty Images

If you already have circulatory issues, treat them. Conditions like peripheral artery disease, sickle cell disease, or anemia need regular monitoring by a healthcare professional. These conditions make the chances of having a stroke higher, especially if proper circulation isn’t maintained.

Next: Treat this disease if you have it.

8. Keep your blood sugar under control

Senior patient getting a blood sugar test
Patient getting a blood sugar test | didesign021/iStock/Getty Images

This tip goes out to all the people with diabetes, and those at high risk of developing the disease. People with diabetes are at a much higher risk of having cardiovascular disease as they age. Maintaining normal glucose levels helps prevent these complications from happening. Make sure to check your blood sugar often to prevent strokes.

Next: This could be clogging your arteries.

9. Reduce your cholesterol levels

Fatty burger and fries
Unhealthy food | Arx0nt/iStock/Getty Images

Eating too much saturated fat, and cholesterol contributes to atherosclerosis. This is when a build-up of fat begins to line the walls of blood vessels and arteries, constricting blood flow and increasing blood pressure. Diets that are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol can lower a person’s risk for hypertension and stroke.

Next: This might surprise daily drinkers.

10. Limit alcohol consumption

Friends clinking glasses
People drinking wine | Nattakorn Maneerat/iStock/Getty Images

According to Stanford, you might be drinking too much alcohol. Sure, a little red wine with dinner might be good for your heart, but if you’re drinking two or more servings, you might be doing more harm than good. This warning goes for both young and mature adults.

Next: You may be getting more of this than you realize.

11. Reduce your sodium intake

Man adding salt to food
Salting food | Ivan-balvan

Too much sodium in your diet can cause or worsen hypertension. One of the leading causes of stroke is uncontrolled high blood pressure. Table salt is where most people get their sodium, but processed foods have a lot hidden in them as well. If you go out to eat, ask the server if they have low-sodium options.

Next: You may need more of this mineral.

12. Eat more potassium-rich foods

Bunches of bananas
Bananas | Vera_Petrunina/iStock/Getty Images

Eating foods rich in potassium has been shown to reduce the risk of having a stroke, especially in postmenopausal women. Foods like bananas, beans, and potatoes are loaded with potassium which helps regulate the balance of fluids and minerals.

Next: Not all birth control is created equal.

13. Ask your doctor about switching birth control

A woman holding birth control pills
Woman holding birth control pills | AntonioGuillem/iStock/Getty Images

Reproductive health is important, but so is reducing stroke risk. Some oral contraceptives increase the risk of developing blood clots, including blood clots that cause strokes.

If you’re 30 or older, talk to your doctor about other birth control methods. The pill is also available with lower estrogen levels for women at a higher risk.

Next: You may need to chill out.

14. Manage your stress levels

Woman holding her head
Stressed woman | fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

Chronic stress is a huge problem in the United States. Managing your stress levels can help lower blood pressure, which reduces stroke risk. The causes of stress are different for everyone, so it’s important to pay attention to triggers.

Reduce stress with counseling, mindfulness, relaxation techniques, or exercise. Just make sure you understand what causes your stress so you can try and avoid it.

Next: Watch out for these signs.

15. Learn the warning signs now

Man holding head
Sudden, severe headache | Motortion/iStock/Getty Images

Learning the warning signs early can help you get the treatment you need faster. When it comes to strokes, timing matters. The longer you wait to seek treatment the worse off you will be. 

Some of the most common indicators of a stroke include; sudden onset of confusion, speaking difficulties, trouble understanding, numbness or weakness in the face, arms, or legs. Also, some people have a sudden, severe headache without any warning, and trouble seeing out of one or both eyes. Don’t ignore any of these symptoms.

The key to remember here is “sudden.” If you have any of these symptoms show up suddenly, you should speak with a doctor or call 911 immediately.