10 Ways to Prevent a Stroke

Learn how to reduce your risk of having a stroke.
Happy mature woman with senior man in blur background
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stroke is the number one cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States. Over the course of a lifetime, stroke affects an estimated four out of five families. Although these statistics sound dire, take heart: With these strategies, you can help your parents reduce their risk -- and reduce your own at the same time.

Control blood pressure.

High blood pressure means a high risk of stroke. If one of your parents has been diagnosed with prehypertension (120/80 to 139/89) or hypertension (140/90 mm Hg or higher), his blood pressure should be treated. The doctor will prescribe the appropriate medications, but your parent's blood pressure needs regular monitoring. Although it can be a bit tricky to use, an inexpensive manual cuff (starting at about $12 at your local drugstore) is a great way to monitor blood pressure at home. But if you can't get the hang of using it, you may want to consider investing in a blood pressure machine, which is a bit more expensive (between $70 and $150); it's also available at your local drugstore.

Depression, medication, and other medical conditions

Manage stress and depression.

A parent's emotional and psychological state can have a very real effect on his physical health. Minimizing stress, anger, and depression is an important aspect of maintaining good cardiovascular health and avoiding a stroke. If your parent lives by himself, he may feel disconnected and alone. Even if your parents still have each other, sitting around the house can lead to boredom and unhappiness. Help your parents get out, make new friends, or simply engage in stimulating activities. Their local church or community center is an excellent place to connect with other seniors.

Perhaps your parent is already a social butterfly but still seems to be having difficulty with his mood. Encourage him to try these stress-busting strategies:

  • Cut back on caffeinated beverages and alcohol.
  • Try meditation or yoga.
  • Play relaxing music.
  • Go for a walk outdoors.

If you've tried everything and still feel concerned about your parent's mood, talk to his doctor. Depression is a serious but treatable illness.

Reduce the risk of blood clots.

Ask your parents' doctor about medications that can reduce their risk of developing blood clots. The most commonly recommended medication is aspirin, which is inexpensive and can be taken at a low dose (81 milligrams is the usual recommended dose). If your parents have other medical issues, the doctor may prescribe a more potent drug.

Control other medical conditions.

If your parents have atrial fibrillation (an abnormal rhythm involving the upper two chambers of the heart), diabetes, heart valve disease, or vascular disease, they have a much greater risk of stroke. These medical conditions require careful management. Make sure their doctor knows about any such conditions and is treating them appropriately.

Talk to the doctor about medications that might increase your parents' risk.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), rosiglitazone (for diabetes), and COX-2 inhibitors (for controlling arthritis pain) are all examples of medications that may increase your parents' risk of stroke. Review their medications with their doctor and ask if there are less risky alternatives.

Know the early warning signs and seek treatment to prevent a stroke .

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, one out of three people who have a transient ischemic attack (TIA) will suffer an acute stroke. Signs of a TIA, or ministroke, include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg -- especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
  • Sudden difficulty walking, loss of balance or coordination, dizziness

For more detailed information, see What You Should Know About TIA If Your Parents Are at Risk for a Stroke . If you think your parent has suffered a TIA, notify his doctor right away so that he can be treated.

Diet, exercise, and smoking

Keep "bad" cholesterol levels low.

One of the major risk factors for stroke is a high bloodstream level of LDL, or "bad" cholesterol. Ideally, your parent's total cholesterol should be no more than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) and no more than five times the level of HDL or "good" cholesterol; his LDL levels should be below 70 mg/dL. Make sure his cholesterol levels are checked regularly and treated if necessary. Following a low-fat diet and exercising regularly may help, but it might not be enough. If his cholesterol levels don't respond to lifestyle changes, his doctor may prescribe medication.

Follow a heart-healthy diet.

The best diet for preventing stroke is the one recommended by the American Heart Association. Choose a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, fish, poultry, lean meats, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.Your parent should limit intake of fat (total fat between 25 and 35 percent of daily calories, saturated fat less than 7 percent, and trans fat less than 1 percent), cholesterol (less than 200 milligrams per day if LDL levels are high, less than 300 milligrams per day if they aren't), and sodium (less than 1,500 milligrams per day for high blood pressure, less than 2,300 milligrams per day otherwise). Your mother should consume no more than one alcoholic beverage per day, your father no more than two. And they should each eat 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber every day.

Encourage regular exercise.

Exercise is essential for general cardiovascular health and is key to preventing a stroke. But how much exercise is enough? The Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association recommend accumulating at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least five days a week on most days. This doesn't mean your parents need to do half an hour of aerobics five days a week; instead, you can encourage short bursts of activity throughout the day. Just parking farther away from the store and walking the extra distance, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can quickly add up. But before your parents begin any exercise program, they should talk to their doctor about any restrictions they might have.

Help them stop smoking.

Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for stroke. If your parents or anyone who lives in their home smokes, quitting is essential to good health. Just living with a smoker increases the risk of stroke by almost 30 percent. But recognize that stopping smoking isn't easy. Here are a few ways you can help:

  • Ask your parents what they think would make it easier for them. They may have suggestions you haven't thought of.
  • Encourage them to talk about their feelings and what they're going through. Smoking may be a comforting lifelong habit; let them mourn a little.
  • You may be tempted to nag or yell if they slip up, but it's more effective to remind them that you love them no matter what. Be positive and encouraging -- and vent your frustration to a friend instead.
  • Help them avoid situations that trigger the desire for a smoke. If they're used to enjoying a cigarette after meals, try going for a short walk outside instead.
  • Be understanding as they go through withdrawal symptoms. Try not to take it personally if they're especially irritable, short-tempered, and tired.
  • Quit smoking yourself. If you must smoke, don't smoke around your parents. Not only will it make quitting more difficult for them, but the secondhand smoke will increase their risk of heart attack .

If your parents find it too difficult to quit on their own, talk to their doctor. Nicotine replacement therapy, support groups, and counseling may all be helpful.

Stephanie Trelogan

Stephanie Trelogan writes about heart disease, stroke, and depression issues that concern people caring for their aging parents. See full bio

about 3 years, said...

I am working as a personal assistant and it's been very stressful for me I'm thinking of quitting my job what do you think and I've also created a rash in my body six months after working for this person and he is very difficult to work with please give me any comments.

about 4 years, said...

My husband smokes about 2 packs of cigarettes a day, drinks at least a6 pack of beer a day, has high blood pressure, takes 3 different meds for that, takes muscle relaxers, has a bad temper, lays in bed most of day, refuses to eat healthy, Father had a Heart attack years ago, Mother has heart problems. What are my Husbands health ricks?

over 4 years, said...

Great article

over 5 years, said...

also diGiorno and Fraschetta frozen pizzas have Partially hydrogenated oil. I can't eat them. I wish these 2 companies would get with it and stop it so we can enjoy good frozen pizzas again.

over 5 years, said...

This article is great. I learned things I didn't know about & am so glad I read about this. I would like to know about vegetables. I can become a vegetarian no problem. I have started my grandchildren on steamed vegies & fruit @ 4mos old. . Steamed apples they love What vegies are good for triglycerides & hypternsion, prediabetes & diabetes?

over 5 years, said...

Good article, but I would like to add a "yes, but." I had a major stroke when I was 56 and in what would probably qualify as great health. My blood pressure was typically 110/70, I exercised almost every day and ate a pretty healthy diet. I had actually run 6 miles earlier in the evening of my stroke. The stroke was caused by a clot and the only thing doctors could come up with was that I had flown to Europe and back 3 months prior, and had a trip to NY and back from Seattle about a month prior. So, my suggestion would be get compression stockings, and make sure you get up and walk around during any long flights.

over 5 years, said...

My husband is 71 years old and has mildly high blood pressure. Last year he had 4 arterial stents placed. He takes medication for blood pressure, a blood thinner, cholesterol reduction, pain medication and over-the-corner supplements considered heart-helpful. The problem is, anger-management, uncontrolled stress and not much exercise. When I cook I never add salt, even when the recipe calls for it. We eat in restaurants usually only when we travel. Our diet is not TOO bad...whole grain bread, low-fat milk, probiotic drinks, no diet soda drinks...2 cups of coffee each morning and 3 ales at night. He quit smoking many years ago but worries that it wasn't soon enough to have saved him from damage. A month or so ago he felt considerable pain above his right eye and decreased/blurry vision in that eye. Following visits to his doctor, an ophamologist and a CT scan, he was told there was no problem. He still experiences some pain and vision deficit, however. He is, by nature, NOT an easy-going guy who has to be approached in the right way if he is to listen to suggestions. He has always been very physically active and is not overweight, despite the fact he can eat half a bag (or more) of (low-salt) chips on those evenings where snack foods are desired. I detest fish (especially if I have to cook it myself) and I get tired of chicken...a vegan I am NOT, nor is he -- he does like fish but won't turn away from a fine filet mignon or lasagna. How can I help my husband feel better about growing older and practice some kind of stress-reduction (he won't meditate, is too stiff for yoga, etc.). He forgot to take his blood pressure medication the other day and felt horrible by afternoon but partially blamed me for not noticing that he hadn't taken his meds that morning. We are spiritual people but not church-goers. His masculine identity is very important to him (as it was to my father). Any suggestions of how to assist my husband prolonging his life would be greatly appreciated. I am 69 and have health issues of my own. Thank you

over 5 years, said...

It is great. Very informitive and much need information to be aware of, inorder to make healthy changes in lifestyle. God bless you. You should consider this is your ministry. Thank you!

over 5 years, said...

Brilliant. Great ideas. A thousand thanks. Marion Wright, OCT

about 6 years, said...

Why does this article have a picture of seniors? Stroke isn't just for old people.

about 6 years, said...


over 6 years, said...

very informative articles"to be forewarned is to be forearmed"

over 6 years, said...

Thank you!

over 6 years, said...

I had a stroke 5 years ago caused by a clot (I was 56 and was otherwise in good health, low blood pressure 115/70, lots of exercise, no smoking). The one thing I would add is the risk of deep vein thrombosis from long trips on planes. That was the only thing my doctors could come up with for me (in the previous month I had been to Europe and back plus another trip to NY from Seattle). This can be prevented by getting up and walking around or pressure stockings.

over 6 years, said...

Every and anything is so very important when it does come to Stroke! Thank you!!

over 6 years, said...

It helps to prevent

over 6 years, said...

Informative article, easy to follow for men (me) and woman.

over 6 years, said...

had a stroke a month ago...triglicerides were double what they should be, but doctor has not told me how to lower it.....anyone know how?

over 6 years, said...

Fgroover25 - Ibuprofen CAUSES bleeding! They don't tell you that ibuprofen can cause bleeding in ANY part of your body. (eg. detached retinas) The 'one size fits all' protocol to lower cholesterol down to obscene numbers will actually cause strokes & heart attacks, I have friends dropping dead left & right from taking prescription drugs & undergoing their "treatments" that don't work. Don't be led like a sheep.

over 6 years, said...

no further comment other than your info is helpful. CB

over 6 years, said...

Yes, any info on stroke or blood pressure -- please send me.

over 6 years, said...

all information related to stroke/high blood pressure. I'll appreciate any more that you may provide. Thanks, CMB

over 6 years, said...

Believe me! Anything at all to help us avoid this horrible thing! It was so God-Awful to see my husband tackle a Stroke!

over 6 years, said...

Just knowing the proper way to eat, exercise, and other essential benefits to prevent a stroke is vital and very important. It is medical sound to follow these instructions and the advice of your Medical Doctor for more information. I am very pleased to have this information and it was extremely helpful. Thanks!

over 6 years, said...

I have been sick with an inherited illness which there is no cure. I love ice cream and candy and i just found out I am diabetic. I am one of those thinkers that says eat what you want why eat healthy you still end up dead anyway. Well not to long ago I changed to a High Fiber 35 diet. Its simple you eat fruit veggies and other things high in fiber like beans lol all kinds of beans. Anyway the food has been so good tasting I have changed everything about the way I eat, never thought in a million years that I would do this. Very good article this coming from a changed man. Try to change you never know if you will like it if you don't at least try. Just have an open mind you may be pleasantly surprised.

over 6 years, said...


over 6 years, said...

know about these foods. try to avoid them.

over 6 years, said...

Always good to be reminded that lifestyle changes can be life saving.

over 6 years, said...

These articles have increased my knowledge on some pressing issues I did not know which were killing me. I was dianosed with high blood pressure and some few years later with diabetes.Continue to enligthen we the sich and God will give you more insight in your bit to discover causes cures of more diseases for the good of mankind. Thanks.

over 6 years, said...

It was really helpful to me, thanks for posting the article. My father has a heart-related problem which i discovered recently when i took him to hospital as he was suffering from chest pain, since then i have been looking for healthy diets and articles related heart problems