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Your Health

Control what you can to prevent TIAs and strokes

When it comes to preventing transient ischemic attacks and strokes, there are things you can control and things you can't. First, what you can't control, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  1. Family history of stroke, heart attack, or TIA.
  2. Age. The risk of having stroke approximately doubles for each decade of life after age 55.
  3. Race. African-Americans have higher risk of stroke than others.
  4. Gender. Men have a higher risk of stroke than women. However, women are more likely than men to die from a stroke.
  5. Prior stroke, TIA or heart attack.

Now, the things you can – and should – control, change, or seek treatment for, according to the American Heart Association and the National Stroke Association:

  1. Blood pressure. The risk of stroke begins to increase when blood pressure is higher than 120/80. Diet, exercise, and prescription drugs can help lower blood pressure.
  2. Smoking cigarettes and being exposed to the second-hand smoke from someone else's cigarettes. Smoking elevates blood pressure and can lead to blood clots.
  3. High cholesterol. Diet, exercise, and prescription drugs can help lower cholesterol.
  4. Diabetes. Diet, exercise, and prescription drugs can help lower blood sugar levels.
  5. Diet. Eating a diet low in sodium, trans fats, and saturated fats can lower your risk of stroke.
  6. Weight. Being overweight or obese increases your chance of stroke.
  7. Physical fitness. Being physically inactive can lead to strokes.
  8. Sleep apnea. This sleep disorder results from intermittent drops in oxygen levels during the night.
  9. Cardiovascular disease like heart failure, heart defects, heart infection, or abnormal heart beats.
  10. Birth control pills or hormone therapies that include estrogen.
  11. Alcohol use. Drinking heavily can increase your chance of having a stroke.
  12. Use of illicit drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines.

If you are concerned about any of these risk factors, consult your primary care physician, says Marc Lazzaro, a neurologist at Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin Neurosciences Center in Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, Wis.

"There are a lot of preventative care measures we can do to really impact" stroke risk, Lazzaro says.

The federal government has launched an effort to cut heart disease and strokes in half by 2017 with the "ABCs" of lifestyle changes: Aspirin for people at risk, Blood pressure control, and Cholesterol management and smoking cessation.

Changing behavior to reduce stroke risk "is the most important thing we can do," Lazzaro says

For more on ways to prevent strokes, view 'Need for speed' in diagnosing TIAs, and FAST: Know the signs of a stroke.