If you’ve already had one stroke, you’re 10 times more likely to have another one than someone who has never had a stroke at all. But with the help of medication and the right lifestyle, up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable.
First, it’s important to address any underlying health conditions that may have contributed to your first stroke. Medications like the blood thinner Plavix are helpful for preventing stroke, but it’s also important to control high blood pressure and other diseases that cause stroke. Living right is the other piece of the puzzle — maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, avoiding tobacco, and not drinking too much alcohol can all go a long way toward helping you stave off another stroke.
If you’ve already had a stroke, chances are an underlying medical condition caused it. Some conditions that cause stroke include:
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Atrial fibrillation
- High cholesterol
You should also treat any health conditions that affect your blood circulation, like anemia or sickle cell disease. Your doctor may prescribe one or more medications to treat health problems that raise your risk of stroke, like Plavix for conditions that affect blood clotting or Zetia for high cholesterol. High blood pressure alone can double or quadruple your stroke risk, so make sure you keep your blood pressure under control. Ideally, you’re aiming for a blood pressure reading of 120 over 80 or less. In addition to medication, diet, and exercise, quitting smoking can help you keep a handle on your blood pressure.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong foods can help you control high blood pressure and can also be beneficial for other conditions, like diabetes. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables — at least four or five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. You should also aim to eat several servings of whole grains every day. You should also try to limit your total calorie intake to between 1,500 and 2,000 calories a day. Eating more plant-based foods will make this easier, since plant-based foods are low in calories but high in filling dietary fiber.
Try to limit your intake of red meat, full-fat dairy and other foods containing a lot of cholesterol. Instead, dine on fish two or three times a week. Eat low-fat dairy and lean meats. Limit your salt intake to 1,500 milligrams a day — or about half a teaspoon — by choosing low-sodium foods and putting away the salt shaker when you’re cooking or eating.
Physical activity helps lower blood pressure, but it also reduces your risk of stroke on its own merit. Moderate exercise for just a few hours a week can substantially cut your risk of stroke. You don’t have to wear yourself out; a 30-minute walk at least five days a week is enough. If you have trouble getting motivated to exercise — and who doesn’t — enlist some friends or relatives who are also interested in getting healthy to walk, jog, bicycle, or go to the gym with you.
If it’s hard to find a solid block of time in which to exercise, break it up into two or three 10 or 15 minute sessions throughout the day. Just make sure you talk to your doctor before you start an exercise regimen so you don’t overdo it.
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
Being overweight or obese are risk factors for stroke, but losing as little as 10 pounds can greatly lower your risk of having another stroke. Exercising regularly will help you lose weight, but daily calorie intake is the really the bigger factor here. It takes a lot more physical activity than you might think to burn off a pound of body fat, so limit your daily calories and try to get your body mass index (BMI) down to between 18.5 and 24.9.
Have a Drink
There’s evidence to suggest that having two drinks a day if you’re a man or one drink a day if you’re a woman can help reduce your risk of having a stroke. Red wine is the best choice, because it’s chock full of a plant compound known as resveratrol that could protect you from heart disease. A single serving of wine is about five ounces, so don’t drink more than that.
Stick to just the one glass a day — more than that could increase your stroke risk. If you don’t drink or don’t drink much, don’t start drinking more just to protect yourself from stroke.
Everyone knows that smoking causes lung cancer, but few people stop to think about the habit’s effect on your cardiovascular system. Smoking causes your blood to get thicker and promotes the buildup of arterial plaque, both of which can contribute to stroke. If you smoke, you should quit; smoking cessation aids like nicotine patches, medication, and counseling can double your chances of success. Even with help, you may need to try several times before you successfully quit; the average smoker quits six times before he or she succeeds. If someone in your household smokes, ask him or her to quit too, or at least to smoke outside so you’re not exposed to secondhand smoke.
If you’ve already had a stroke, your chances of having another one increase — but that doesn’t mean you’re at the mercy of the odds. You can take control of your health and take steps to reduce your stroke risk — and live a longer, healthier life.