Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School



You can help to prevent stroke by controlling risk factors. Risk factors for stroke include:

  • High blood pressure

  • Smoking

  • Abnormal heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation)

  • High cholesterol

  • Atherosclerosis

  • Diabetes

A healthy lifestyle and taking a daily aspirin can also help to prevent stroke.

Several medicines to treat high blood pressure are especially beneficial in preventing stroke. These include ACE inhibitors and thiazide diuretics.

If you have or have had atrial fibrillation, the blood-thinning medication warfarin (Coumadin) can greatly reduce your risk of stroke. Warfarin prevents clots from forming inside the heart. These are clots that might later dislodge and cause a stroke.

High cholesterol also should be treated aggressively. Cholesterol-lowering medications called statins can help to prevent strokes.

To help prevent stroke, you should exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet:

  • Is rich in fruits and vegetables

  • Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol

  • Includes two to four servings of fish per week

  • Avoids excessive alcohol

In addition, never take cocaine or amphetamines (unless amphetamines are prescribed by your doctor): they can cause strokes.

Talk to your doctor about the potential benefits of taking an aspirin daily. Aspirin, in doses as low as 80 milligrams per day, can reduce the risk of stroke. Be aware, however, that daily aspirin slightly increases the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. Other medications can also help to prevent clots. Aspirin and other clot-preventing medicines are not safe for everyone.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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