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Stroke: How to Prevent Another One

Topic Overview

After you've had a stroke, you may be worried that you could have another one. That's easy to understand. But the good news is that there are things you can do to reduce your risk of having another stroke. Taking medicine, doing stroke rehabilitation, and making healthy lifestyle changes can help.

Take your medicines

You'll need to take medicines to help prevent another stroke. Be sure to take your medicines exactly as prescribed. And don't stop taking them unless your doctor tells you to. If you stop taking your medicines, you can increase your risk of having another stroke.

Some of the medicines your doctor may prescribe include:

  • Aspirin and other antiplatelet medicines to prevent blood clots.
  • Anticoagulants to prevent blood clots, especially for people who have atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat).
  • Statins to lower cholesterol. Statins can greatly reduce your risk of having another stroke. Statins even protect against stroke in people who do not have heart disease or high cholesterol.1
  • ACE inhibitors and ARBs (angiotensin II receptor blockers) to lower blood pressure.

Manage other health problems

You can help lower your chance of having another stroke by managing other health problems that you might have. Health problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, can increase your risk of a stroke.

If you have any of these health problems, you can manage them by making lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating better, and being active. If lifestyle changes don't help enough, you also may need to take medicines to manage these conditions.

Take part in a stroke rehabilitation program

Taking part in a stroke rehabilitation (rehab) program can help you learn how to reduce your risk of having another stroke. A stroke rehab program is designed for you and is supervised by doctors and other specialists.

This type of program helps you to regain skills you lost or to make the most of your remaining abilities after a stroke. It also helps you take steps to prevent another stroke. In the program, a team of health professionals provides education and support to help you build new, healthy habits.

In stroke rehab, you'll learn how to manage any other health problems that you might have, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and depression. You'll also learn how to exercise safely, eat a healthy diet, and quit smoking if you smoke. You'll work with your team to decide what lifestyle choices are best for you.

If your doctor hasn't already suggested it, ask him or her if stroke rehab is right for you.

Make healthy lifestyle changes

Healthy lifestyle changes can help lower your risk of having another stroke. And they may help you feel better and live longer. Here are some things you can do:

  • Quit smoking, and avoid secondhand smoke. If you smoke, try to quit. Medicines and counseling can help you quit for good.
  • Be active. You can still be physically active after a stroke. Doctors recommend ½ to 1½ hours a week of moderate exercise. One way to do this is to be active 30 minutes a day, 1 to 3 days a week. It's okay to be active in 10-minute blocks throughout the day. Your doctor can suggest a safe level of exercise for you.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods. These include fruits, vegetables, high-fiber foods, and foods that are low in sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Eat fish at least 2 times each week. Oily fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, are best. These fish include salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, and sardines.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. Being overweight makes you more likely to have high blood pressure, heart problems, and diabetes. These conditions make a stroke more likely.
  • Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.

It's also important to:

  • Get a flu vaccine every year.
  • Ask for help if you think you are depressed.

References

Citations

  1. Furie KL, et al (2011). Guidelines for the prevention of stroke in patients with stroke or transient ischemic attack: A guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke, 42(1): 227–276. Also available online: http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/42/1/227.full.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Richard D. Zorowitz, MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Last Revised June 26, 2013

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