The Basics: Overview
You can help reduce your risk of stroke by making healthy changes.
These are the most important steps you can take to lower your risk of stroke:
- Keep your blood pressure in the normal range
- If you smoke, quit
- Keep your blood sugar (glucose) in the normal range
- If you have heart disease, get treatment
- Keep your cholesterol levels in the normal range
- Stay at a healthy weight
- Get active
- Eat healthy
Making these healthy changes can also help lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Learn more about healthy habits that can help prevent stroke:
The Basics: Am I at Risk?
Am I at risk for stroke?
The number 1 risk factor for stroke that you can change is high blood pressure. High blood pressure often has no signs or symptoms, so it’s important to get your blood pressure checked by a doctor or nurse regularly. It’s also a good idea to check your blood pressure yourself at home.
Ask your doctor how often you need to get your blood pressure checked.
You may also be at risk for stroke if you:
- Have had a previous stroke or a transient ischemic attack (also called a TIA or mini-stroke)
- Smoke or vape with products that have nicotine in them
- Drink too much alcohol
- Use certain drugs (like cocaine or heroin)
- Have diabetes
- Don’t get enough physical activity
- Are overweight or have obesity
- Have certain heart problems, like coronary artery disease (heart disease), an irregular heartbeat (including atrial fibrillation), or problems with a heart valve
- Have high cholesterol
You’re at higher risk of having a stroke as you get older. You may also be more at risk if someone in your family has had a stroke. Make sure you know your family’s medical history and share it with your doctor.
The Basics: Definition
What is a stroke?
A stroke is sometimes called a brain attack. A stroke happens when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel breaks, which can damage or kill cells in the brain.
Stroke is a leading cause of death and long-term disability in adults. It can also cause brain damage.
A stroke can cause long-term problems like:
- Memory problems or trouble thinking and speaking
- Vision problems
- Trouble walking or keeping your balance
- Paralysis (not being able to move some parts of the body) and muscle weakness
- Trouble controlling or expressing emotions
- Trouble with chewing and swallowing
- Trouble controlling when you go to the bathroom
The Basics: Signs
What are the signs of a stroke?
A stroke usually happens suddenly. But it can also happen over hours or even days. Signs of a stroke include:
- Sudden dizziness, loss of balance, or trouble walking
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or trouble understanding what people are saying
- Sudden trouble seeing in 1 or both eyes
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg — especially on 1 side of the body
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Having a stroke is a medical emergency. Call 911 right away if you or someone else shows signs of stroke.
The acronym FAST can help you remember the most common signs of a stroke and what to do if you think you or someone else is having a stroke:
- F (face drooping)
- A (arm weakness)
- S (speech trouble)
- T (time to call 911)
Your chances of surviving and recovering from a stroke are better if you get emergency treatment right away.
What is a mini-stroke?
A mini-stroke causes the same symptoms as a stroke, but the symptoms don’t last as long. A mini-stroke is also called a TIA, which stands for transient ischemic attack.
A TIA happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked for a short period of time — usually minutes to hours. If you’ve had a TIA, you are at higher risk for having a larger stroke.
Never ignore signs of a TIA. Call 911 right away if you or someone else shows signs of a mini-stroke.
Take Action: Know Your Numbers
Take these steps today to reduce your risk of stroke.
Get your blood pressure checked.
High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke, so it’s important to get your blood pressure checked by a doctor or nurse regularly starting at age 18. It’s also a good idea to check your own blood pressure at home if you’ve ever had high blood pressure.
If your blood pressure is high, talk with your doctor or nurse about how to lower it.
Get your cholesterol checked.
Having high cholesterol can increase your risk of stroke. It’s important to get your cholesterol checked at least every 4 to 6 years. Some people will need to get it checked more or less often.
If your cholesterol is high, talk with your doctor about steps you can take to lower it.
Take Action: Healthy Habits
Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to prevent stroke. After you quit smoking, your risk of stroke and heart disease start to go down. Use our tips to quit smoking.
Getting active can help lower your risk of stroke. Aim for:
- At least 150 minutes every week of moderate aerobic activity — try walking fast or biking
- Muscle-strengthening activities 2 days a week — try lifting weights or doing push-ups
If that’s more activity than you can do right now, do what you can. Even 5 minutes of physical activity has real health benefits. You can use this tool to build a personalized weekly activity plan.
Get enough sleep.
Sleep is important for staying healthy. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes people’s breathing to pause during sleep and increases the risk of stroke.
Check out our tips for getting the sleep you need. Talk with your doctor if you have trouble getting enough sleep.
Take Action: Food and Alcohol
Eating healthy can help keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control. Try to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at meals. And be sure to cut down on foods high in sodium (salt) and saturated fat. These resources can help:
Drink alcohol only in moderation.
Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of high blood pressure, which is a major cause of stroke. If you choose to drink alcohol, drink only in moderation. That means:
- 1 drink or less in a day for women
- 2 drinks or less in a day for men
Take steps to prevent type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes can increase your risk of stroke. Eating healthy and staying active can lower your risk of diabetes. Learn more about preventing type 2 diabetes.
If you have diabetes, talk with your doctor or nurse about ways to keep your blood sugar (glucose) in the normal range.
Take Action: Talk with Your Doctor
Ask your doctor about taking aspirin every day.
Taking aspirin regularly is not recommended for everyone. If you’re age 40 to 59 years, talk with your doctor to find out if taking aspirin is the right choice for you.
Know your family’s health history.
Your family’s health history can give your doctor or nurse important information about your risk for stroke. Use this family health history tool to keep track of your family’s health. Share this information with your doctor or nurse.