May 1, 2018

Some risk factors for having a stroke are out of your control, like your age or having a parent or sibling who had a stroke.

But the good news is that there are many steps you can take to drastically reduce your chance of having a stroke, noted Dr. Lakshmi Warrior, Associate Medical Director of Stroke at Cook County Health.

“It’s estimated that 80 percent of strokes are preventable,” Dr. Warrior said. “Making healthy lifestyle changes, like maintaining a balanced diet and getting plenty of exercise, can go a long way in preventing you from having a stroke, which occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is disrupted.”

Here are five ways you can start lowering your risk of having a stroke right now:

    1. Lower high blood pressure. “High blood pressure is the No. 1 risk factor for stroke. That’s because high blood pressure weakens arteries in your body, making it much more likely that they could burst or clog more easily. If that happens in the brain, it can lead to a devastating stroke,” said Adaku Madubuko, RN, APN, Stroke Program Coordinator at CCH’ John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital. The only way to know you have high blood pressure is to get tested by your doctor. “If you find your blood pressure is high—defined as being at or above 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mmHg)—you can lower it by losing weight, exercising regularly and eating healthy, amongst other things,” Madubuko said.
    2. Eat right, avoid the salt. Yes, anyone can benefit from eating healthy. But developing healthy food habits can especially pay off for people at risk for having a stroke, because it lowers three risk factors—being overweight and having high blood pressure or high cholesterol. A good diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and skinless poultry and fish, according to the American Stroke Association. A healthy diet is also low in sodium, saturated fat and sugar-sweetened beverages. Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure.
    3. Get more exercise. Exercise helps you lose weight and keep your blood pressure down—two ways to prevent a stroke. “It’s recommended that you try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week. That could be walking vigorously, riding a bike or whatever else keeps your heart rate up for 30 minutes,” said Madubuko.
    4. Stop smoking. Smoking is a well-established risk factor for strokes. “As hard as it may be, quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to avoid having a stroke. Plus, it also cuts your risk of developing a number of other health issues, like heart disease and lung cancer,” Dr. Warrior said. For help in quitting smoking, you can call the Illinois Tobacco Quitline at 1-866 QUIT YES or visit
    5. Manage diabetes and heart disease. Diabetes and heart disease can both make you more at-risk for a stroke. If you have either or both diseases, it’s critical that you lose weight if it’s necessary, eat healthy, get plenty of exercise and take medication, if prescribed, Dr. Warrior said. “You should also get regular checkups, so you can identify any risk factors and address them before they lead to a stroke,” she added.

To make an appointment with a primary doctor, please contact our health system at 312-864-0200.