How to prevent a stroke

Seven things you can do to reduce your risk

Why a Stroke Occurs

Stroke is the third most-common cause of death in the UK. Your risk increases the older you get and if you have a close relative who has had a stroke. While you can't change your age or family history, most strokes can be prevented.

See also: How sleep and exercise affect your risk of having a stroke

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1. Watch your blood pressure
As we get older, our arteries get harder and narrower that can result in high blood pressure – which left uncontrolled can significantly increase the risk of stroke.

People with blood pressure consistently over 140/90 are six times more likely to have a stroke than a person of the same age with normal blood pressure. Those with diabetes have double the chance of a stroke, and those with heart disease are also more at risk.

Be sure to have regular check-ups as you get older (most people with high blood pressure don't have symptoms). If you have been diagnosed with a condition known to increase your risk of stroke – such as high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) – it's important to make sure the condition is well controlled.

2. Lose weight
Being overweight, as well as the complications associated with obesity such as high blood pressure and diabetes, significantly increases your chances of having a stroke. If you're overweight, the good news is that losing just 10 pounds can reduce your risk.

Joining a weight loss group, such as Weight Watchers or Slimming World can help give you the motivation and support you need. It's also worth speaking to your GP who may be able to prescribe Orlistat, a drug designed to treat obesity, which is also available to buy as Alli.

3. Exercise more
Getting more exercise will help you to lose weight and lower your blood pressure, but is also a stroke reducer in its own right.

Aim for a 30-minute brisk walk each day as a minimum. A wearable tracking device can help you to measure your footsteps, motivate you to meet your fitness goals, and keep you keep on track.

Sitting for long periods of time increases the odds of illness and premature death, so try to get on your feet every 30 minutes or so.

4. Drink in moderation
Moderate alcohol consumption can reduce your risk of stroke – but be careful. Research shows that if you have one alcoholic drink per day, your risk may be lower but once you start having more than two drinks per day, your risk increases sharply.

A 20-year Scottish study found that people who drank more than five units of alcohol a day doubled their risk of dying from a stroke, while heavy drinkers tripled their risk compared to teetotallers.

Drinking too much can lead to high blood pressure and trigger irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), both of which can increase the likelihood of having a stroke.

If you're going to enjoy a tipple, make it a (small) glass of red wine as it contains resveratrol, which is known to help protect the heart and brain.

5. Stop smoking
Smoking narrows your arteries and makes your blood more likely to clot, doubling your risk of having a stroke. Smokers with high blood pressure are at even greater risk - five times more likely to have a stroke than smokers with normal blood pressure and 20 times more than non-smokers with normal blood pressure.

Quit today, and you can reduce your risk of stroke, as well as other serious conditions, such as lung cancer and heart disease.

Your GP can offer advice and support, or contact the NHS Smoking Helpline on 0300 123 1044. There are also many stop-smoking aids, such as gums and patches, available over-the-counter.

6. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
You may be bored of hearing it, but eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables and fibre will lower your risk of stroke, as well as other major killers such as heart disease and cancer.

Make sure to include cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts), which are contain high levels of antioxidant vitamins, along with brightly coloured fruit and vegetables such as blackcurrants, oranges and green and red peppers.

Eating just one extra portion of fruit or veg a day can lower your stroke risk by 6%.

7. Cut your salt intake
If you only make one change to your diet, eat less salt.

It's not just the salt you sprinkle on food that's the problem - watch the sodium content in processed foods you eat, such as tinned and fresh soups, sauces and ready meals. Experts say that cutting your salt intake to the recommended 6g daily amount would prevent one-fifth of strokes.