Patient Education for Stroke

Learn more about the risk factors for stroke, measures you can take to prevent stroke and what you or a loved one might experience after a stroke.

What is a stroke? 

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is blocked by a blood clot or bursts.  When this happens, the brain doesn’t get the blood, oxygen, and nutrients it needs, so the brain cells die. Fast facts on stroke,
There are two types of stroke, ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes account for approximately 85% of strokes and are usually caused by a blot clot within a blood vessel in the brain. Hemorrhagic events account for 15% of strokes and are caused by a leaking or ruptured blood vessel in the brain. You could also have a transient ischemic attack (TIA), where symptoms resolve within 24 hours.  Most strokes are caused by risk factors such as atrial fibrillation, hypertension, high cholesterol to name a few. However, up to 33% of strokes do not have an identifiable cause and are called cryptogenic strokes

Risk Factors

If any of the risk factors below apply to you, ask your physician if they can be changed, treated or medically-managed to decrease your risk of stroke.

Atrial Fibrillation (Afib)

Afib is a type of irregular or “racing” heartbeat that can cause blood to collect in the heart and potentially form a clot, which can travel to a person’s brain and cause a stroke or brain attack. Having Afib increases a person’s risk for stroke. Find out more about Atrial Fibrillation. La fibrilación auricular (FA) y el derrame cerebral.

Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid artery disease is known to increase your risk of ischemic stroke by causing narrowing inside the blood vessel. Some patients may benefit from a surgical procedure such as a carotid endarterectomy, trans-femoral carotid stenting, or trans-carotid stenting.  You can also control your carotid artery disease by following a healthy diet and taking your medications as prescribed. 

Cigarette Smoking

Apart from other risk factors, smoking almost doubles the risk for ischemic stroke (blockage of a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain). Men who smoke increase their risk for bleeding stroke every time they light up, says the American Stroke Association. An 18-year study of more than 20,000 men found that those who smoke more than a pack of cigarettes a day double their stroke risk compared with people who have never smoked or those who’ve kicked their habits. Get the facts about smoking and stroke risk. Estar libre de humo: Datos sobre tabaquismo y riesgo de derrames cerebrales.

High Blood Pressure

The most important controllable risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure. High blood pressure (140/90 or higher) can damage blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control, reducing the systolic (top) number by 12 to 13 points can decrease the risk for a stroke by 37 percent. Learn more about stroke and high blood pressure. Derrame Cerebral y hipertensión arterial.

High Cholesterol

High cholesterol levels can contribute to atherosclerosis (thickening or hardening of the arteries) caused by a buildup of plaque (deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, calcium). Plaque buildup on the inside of the walls of arteries can decrease the amount of blood flow to the brain. Find out how cholesterol affects stroke risk. El colesterol y el derrame cerebral.


While controllable, people with diabetes have two to four times the risk of having a stroke than someone without diabetes. Blood pressure for people with diabetes should be 130/80 or less to reduce the risk of stroke. Learn more about stroke and diabetes. La diabetes y el derrame cerebral.

Excessive Alcohol Use

More than two drinks per day raises blood pressure, and binge drinking can lead to stroke. Find out how alcohol and drug abuse affects stroke risk.

Lack of Exercise

Lack of exercise and physical inactivity increases the risk for stroke. Gradually build up to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or bicycling, at least five days a week.


Excess weight increases the risk for stroke. To determine if your weight is in a healthy range, check your body mass index online.


In addition to managing any stroke risk factors you may have, follow the tips below to help prevent a stroke.

Exercise and maintain a healthy weight.

Moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes a day is recommended for most adults. Talk with your doctor about any special considerations for your exercise plan to maintain a healthy weight. Learn more about getting and staying healthy.

Follow the Mediterranean diet.

Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. The diet has been associated with a lower level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol that’s more likely to build up deposits in your arteries. Learn more about the Mediterranean Diet.

Eat plenty of potassium.

Eating foods that contain potassium could reduce your risk for stroke. One study in the journal Stroke found that people who consumed fewer than 2,300 mg of potassium per day had a 50 percent higher stroke risk than those who consumed more than 4,100 mg. Good sources of potassium include baked potatoes with skin, plain yogurt, cantaloupes and honeydew melons, halibut and tuna steaks, grapefruit, orange or prune juice, bananas and molasses.


Treatment of stroke can vary depending on many different factors. Some ischemic stroke patients may benefit from a clot busting medication while other ischemic stroke patients may benefit from a surgical procedure called mechanical thrombectomy.  Other patients with a ruptured aneurysm may require a surgical procedure called “coiling.” 

After a Stroke

After suffering a stroke, individuals may suffer from any number of the following ailments:

Issues with Bladder and Bowel Function

Problems with bladder and bowel function are common but distressing for stroke survivors. “Going to the bathroom” after suffering a stroke may be complicated by urinary incontinence and retention, constipation and bowel incontinence. Learn more about bladder and bowel function following a stroke. Recuperación Después del Derrame Cerebral: Función de la Vejiga y del Intestino.

Difficulty Coping with Emotions

Dealing with a flood of emotions can be hard for stroke survivors. Some emotions are normal responses to the changes in your life after stroke. Others are common but should not be considered a normal part of stroke recovery. If you suffer from depression, anxiety or uncontrollable emotions, seek help. Read about symptoms and tips for emotions following a stroke.


Feeling tired is a common complaint after a stroke. About 30-70% of survivors suffer from fatigue, which can be frustrating and can slow down recovery. Fatigue can even affect those who are doing well after stroke. Learn about managing fatigue after a stroke. Recuperación Después del Derrame Cerebral: Control de la Fatiga.

Speech difficulty

One of the more common problems after a stroke is communication difficulty. Individuals may stumble over their words, slur them, or be unable to find their words at all. This can create distressing and frustrating feelings for both stroke survivors and family members.

Varying Levels of Disability

Strokes can range from mild to debilitating with a range of possible disabilities in between.  There are a lot of resources for stroke survivors learning to cope with new disabilities including both in-person and online Stroke Support Group meetings.

Driving After Stroke

Driving after a stroke can be difficult, especially if you have trouble with your vision, or have weakness of an arm or leg. Some patients may benefit from evaluation by an occupational therapist or a driver’s training program.  Learn about driving after stroke.