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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Five Simple Steps to Lower Your Risk of Stroke

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May 23, 2007

Chicago -

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and the leading cause of serious, long-term disabilities. The good news however, is that 80 percent of strokes can be prevented by taking precautionary measures and adopting healthy habits.

Richard Bernstein, MD, a neurologist at the Certified Primary Stroke Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, recommends five steps to reduce your risk of stroke.

Check your blood pressure

High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke.  To lower your risk, have your blood pressure checked annually, more frequently if you have a history of high blood pressure. If the higher number in your blood pressure reading is consistently above 120 or if the lower number is consistently over 80, talk with your doctor about ways to manage your blood pressure and keep it within normal levels. Often, changes in your diet, regular exercise and medicine can help keep blood pressure in a safe range.

Don’t smoke

Smoking doubles your risk of stroke. If you are a smoker, talk to your physician about tobacco cessation options and find a method that works best for you.  Quitting smoking will significantly reduce your risk of stroke, as well as your risk of heart and lung diseases.

Limit your alcohol intake

More than two alcoholic beverages a day may increase your risk of stroke. If you drink alcohol, stick to two drinks per day to maintain a healthy limit. In fact, studies show that drinking up to two alcoholic drinks per day can actually reduce your risk for a stroke. Moderation is the key.

Monitor your cholesterol

Have your cholesterol levels checked annually by your physician. If your total cholesterol level is more than 200, you may be at an increased risk for stroke. Talk to your doctor about reducing your cholesterol through a modified diet and increased exercise.


Incorporating as little as 30 minutes of physical activity every day can decrease your risk of stroke and improve your cardiovascular health. Simple steps you can take include going for a brisk walk at lunch or enjoying a bike ride after work. Similarly, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator and park farther away from the door when running errands. Increasing your level of activity is easy and can make a big impact on your health.

Early Warning Signs to Watch Out for:

  • Severe headache that appears suddenly or lasts continuously for multiple days, without a known cause
  • Trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
  • Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Weakness or numbness of the face, arms or legs, especially prevalent on one side
Last UpdateOctober 14, 2011