Preventing A Stroke

The best way to prevent stroke is to reduce your risk factors and take control of your own health:

  • Lower your cholesterol level if it is elevated – some people can do this by modifying diet; others need to take medication. Lowering cholesterol levels has been proven by researchers to reduce the risk of stroke.

    For more detailed information on how to lower your cholesterol, go to Lowering Your Cholesterol.

  • If you smoke, stop smoking – Many excellent smoking cessation programs are available today; your doctor can advise you about tools you can use, such as the nicotine patch.

    For more information about how to stop smoking, go to Smoking: How To Stop.

  • Drink alcohol in moderation – A drink or two a day is considered acceptable.
  • Keep your weight within normal limits.
  • Get a moderate amount of exercise at least five days a week.
  • Eat a healthy diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in fats.
  • If you have cardiovascular disease, work with your doctor to treat it. Certain types of problems with the heart and blood vessels, such as atherosclerosis and atrial fibrillation can cause blood clots to form. These clots can block an artery in the brain and cause a stroke (or can block a blood vessel in the heart and cause a heart attack).
  • If you have diabetes, keep it under good control.

    For more detailed information on how to control your diabetes, go to Diabetes.

  • If you have high blood pressure be sure to take your medication regularly.

    For more detailed information on how to lower your blood pressure, go to Hypertension.

  • Know the warning signs of TIAs and strokes, and get help right away if you experience them.

Medications For Prevention

Certain medications have been shown to reduce the risk of stroke. These drugs fall under two major categories. They aim to prevent the formation of dangerous blood clots:

  • Antiplatelet agents such as aspirin – These drugs work by preventing or reducing platelet aggregation in the bloodstream. Platelets are tiny blood cells that cause blood to coagulate or clot. When a blood vessel is damaged or injured, platelets will migrate to the area to begin a healing process. However, large numbers of platelets can clump together or aggregate and form a clot that is essentially a plug in an artery. Antiplatelet agents help prevent this clumping.
  • Anticoagulants – These drugs work by thinning the blood and preventing clotting. Common anticoagulants are heparin and warfarin.

Antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs can also be used to treat heart disease, so taking one medicine can help reduce your risk of both heart attack and brain attack. Your doctor can advise you on what medications are right for you.

Nice To Know:

The medical community first became aware of aspirin’s protective effects for stroke in 1978, and since then, several large studies have shown that aspirin reduces the risk of stroke. But aspirin isn’t the only antiplatelet medicine available. If you can’t take aspirin because of allergy or the risk of stomach ulcers, other drugs are available.

Surgery For Prevention

Carotid endarterectomy – the same procedure that can sometimes be used to treat strokes caused by a blockage – can also be used to help prevent such strokes from happening in the first place.

The procedure involves removing plaque buildup in the carotid artery . It is performed when the artery is blocked by more than 70 percent.

  • It has been proven that for certain individuals who have had minor strokes or TIAs, and the carotid artery in the neck is more than 70 percent blocked (i.e. severely blocked), this procedure can reduce the risk of future strokes.
  • It also is beneficial for individuals with blocked carotid arteries who have not had previous symptoms of stroke.

Carotid endarterectomy takes about an hour to perform. A tube is placed to transport blood around the area to be treated. After the surgeon has scraped away the built-up plaque, the artery is sewn back together and blood flow is restored.

Currently, carotid endarterectomy is available only at major treatment centers in the U.S. Among the risks is the possibility of experiencing a stroke during the procedure itself. If you are considering this procedure, you and your doctor should weigh the risks and benefits.

The Role Of Vitamin E

Research suggests that vitamin E helps prevent arteries from clogging by blocking the conversion of cholesterol into its most dangerous form. Vitamin E is also a powerful anti-clotting agent. It helps the blood flow more easily through arteries when fatty plaques are present. It also is an antioxidant, which means it helps prevent cell damage. Ask a doctor about the proper amount of this vitamin to take daily.

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