If you had a stroke or TIA, your doctor or nurse will prescribe medicines to lower your risk of having another stroke. Some of these medicines work by “lowering your risk factors”. That means that they help lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Other medicines help by keeping blood clots from forming. (Blood clots cause many strokes).
Medicines that are especially important in preventing strokes include:
- Medicines to lower blood pressure
- Medicines called statins, which lower cholesterol
- Medicines to prevent blood clots, such aspirin or blood thinners
- Medicines that help to keep your blood sugar as close to normal as possible (if you have diabetes)
Whatever medicines your doctor prescribes, make sure you take them every day as directed. If you cannot afford your medicines or if they cause side effects, talk to your doctor or nurse. There are often ways to deal with these problems.
Lifestyle changes can do a lot to lower your risk of stroke. That’s partly because the right lifestyle choices can help control risk factors such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Besides, the lifestyle changes that help lower your risk of stroke can also help prevent lots of other health problems.
Here are the most important lifestyle changes:
- Stop smoking – If you smoke, ask your doctor or nurse about how to quit. There are strategies and medicines that can improve your chances of success. Studies show that people are most successful at quitting if they take medicines to help them quit and work with a counselor. You might also have a better chance at success if you combine nicotine replacement with one of the prescription medicines that help people quit.
- Get regular exercise (if your doctor says it is safe) for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week.
- Lose weight – If you are overweight eat a “Mediterranean” diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, and low in meats, sweets, and refined grains (such as white bread or white rice).
- Eat less salt (sodium).
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink – If you are a woman, do not drink more than 1 drink a day. If you are a man, do not drink more than 1 to 2 drinks a day.
Questions & Answers
What is a stroke?
Stroke is the term doctors use when a part of the brain is damaged because of a problem with blood flow. Strokes can happen when:
- An artery going to the brain gets clogged or closes off, and part of the brain goes without blood for too long
- An artery breaks open and starts bleeding into or around the brain
How do strokes affect people? The effects of a stroke depend on a lot of things, including:
- Which part and how much of the brain is affected
- How quickly the stroke is treated
Some people who have a stroke have no lasting effects. Others lose important brain functions. For example, some people become partly paralyzed or unable to speak. Stroke is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the world.
How can you tell if someone is having a stroke?
There is an easy way to remember the signs of a stroke. Just think of the word “FAST”. Each letter in the word stands for one of the things you should watch for:
Face – Does the person’s face look uneven or droop on one side?
Arm – Does the person have weakness or numbness in one or both arms? Does one arm drift down if the person tries to hold both arms out?
Speech – Is the person having trouble speaking? Does his or her speech sound strange?
Time – If you notice any of these stroke signs, call for an ambulance (in the US and Canada, dial 9-1-1). You need to act FAST. The sooner treatment begins, the better the chances of recovery.
How can I keep from having another stroke?
If you had an ischemic stroke – a stroke caused by a blocked artery in the brain – medicines and lifestyle changes can help to lower the chances of having another stroke. If you had a transient ischemic attack or “TIA,” these same things can help prevent a full-blown stroke.
Medicines and lifestyle changes work together to give the most benefit. It’s very important that you take all the medicines your doctor prescribes. It’s just as important to make the lifestyle changes your doctor recommends.