There is no single underlying cause of stroke. There are some things that increase your risk of a stroke that you can’t change.
These are known as ‘non-modifiable’ risk factors and include:
- having had a ‘mini’ stroke
- increasing age
- being of South Asian, African or African Caribbean origin
- having a relative who has had a stroke
- and having a condition such as diabetes or heart disease
But others, known as ‘modifiable risk factors’, you can do something about, and so lower your risk. These include:
- high blood pressure (a contributing factor to more than half of strokes in England, Wales and NI)
- high cholesterol (reducing cholesterol level by 1mmol/L reduces the risk of stroke by more than a fifth)
- smoking – this doubles your risk and giving up cuts that risk dramatically no matter how long you have been a smoker or how old you are
- drinking alcohol – too much alcohol, particularly binge drinking, as this can raise your blood pressure
- lack of regular physical activity – which has a negative effect on your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight
- eating an unhealthy diet – generally one too high in calories, fat and salt and doesn’t include at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day
Can you reduce your risk?
You should make an appointment to see your GP if any of these risk factors apply to you – particularly if your family background puts you at greater risk. By identifying your overall risk of a stroke, you can discuss how to lower your risk of and agree an action plan.
If you have had a stroke or a mini stroke you are more likely to have another, so you need to agree with your doctor how best to reduce your future risk. This can include medication e.g. statins to control cholesterol, medicine to thin the blood or to reduce blood pressure as well as making lifestyle changes.
Helping you make lifestyle changes
You can use the lifestyle quizzes and checklists on the NHS Choices website to see how closely you are to meeting current guidelines on eating, physical activity and exercise. You’ll also find tips on how to fit any changes into your daily routine.
The Stroke Association also offers help and advice on lifestyle changes.
These suggestions can help you on your way:
- Do you smoke? If you smoke, take steps to stop. This is the most significant change you can make. The difficulties of giving up smoking are well known, so ask your GP or practice nurse how the NHS can help you. You may have the choice of one-to-one sessions or joining a local group so you can share experiences and tips with others who are trying to give up. Nicotine products and other medication are available on prescription. You may prefer to look on the NHS Smokefree website for more information or call their helpline for advice.
- Check out your diet: It should be one that has plenty of fruit and vegetables, plenty of starchy foods such as bread and potatoes and is low in sugar, salt and fat, particularly saturated fat.
- Do you drink too much alcohol? Although some research suggests some alcohol might be good for your heart, binge drinking and drinking more than the recommended units each week is not. Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline.
- Do you take enough regular exercise? Aim for activities that you enjoy, are relatively easy to build into your daily routine and that make you feel slightly breathless but do not cause pain or discomfort. Building up to 30minutes on 5 days a week is recommended. As well as increasing your fitness, it can help control your weight, blood cholesterol and blood pressure.