If you've had a stroke, preventing a second stroke is a top priority. "The risk of a stroke is tenfold higher in someone who has had a stroke in the past," says Larry B. Goldstein, MD, professor of medicine (neurology) and director of the Duke Stroke Center in Durham, N.C.
Prevention of a second stroke starts by addressing conditions that caused the first stroke, such as atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart rhythm that can cause blood to clot) or narrowing of a carotid artery in the neck. Treatment is also aimed at other factors that put you at risk, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. But it takes more than just your doctor's efforts. You also have an important role to play in preventing stroke. It's up to you to make lifestyle changes that can lower your risk.
Did You Know?
Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests, at no cost to you. Learn more.
A stroke can be a devastating experience. Surviving it can be a powerful motivation to make lasting positive changes in your life. Take charge of your future by following these recommendations.
Prescription for Recurrent Stroke Prevention
Antiplatelet drugs and anticoagulants are medicines that can help reduce the risk of a second ischemic stroke. These medicines interfere with the blood's clotting action so that clots can't form and cause a stroke. Aspirin is one of the most common, most effective, and least expensive types of antiplatelet medication.
There are several types of blood thinners available, and your doctor will choose one based on your medical history, your health conditions, and the potential for side effects. For example, people with a bleeding disorder may not be able to take aspirin.
When you use these medications, it's important to take them as prescribed. Even if you've taken aspirin in the past for pain relief, do not take more than your doctor recommends. Also, ask about potential interactions. For instance, the most commonly used anticoagulant, warfarin, can be affected by other drugs and by foods, such as green leafy vegetables, which are high in vitamin K.
Know Your Numbers: Keep Blood Pressure Low
High blood pressure exerts continuous pressure on the walls of the arteries. If it is left untreated, it damages and weakens your arteries, making them more likely to clog or burst and cause a stroke. Hypertension is the biggest contributing risk factor to stroke.
Making lifestyle changes that reduce your stroke risk will also help you manage your blood pressure. You will also need to take blood pressure medicine every day. Be sure to talk with your doctor if you notice any side effects. But don't stop taking medication unless directed to do so.
Ask your doctor what your target blood pressure should be. Using a home blood pressure monitor can help you track your pressure and know if your medication is working.