A-Z of services

Reducing the risk of stroke

A stroke can happen to anyone and in most cases there is no single cause, but various factors can increase or decrease the risk.

Some people are more at risk than others and some factors cannot be changed such as:

  • Age – the risk is very low in young people but increases as we get older
  • Ethnicity – people of African Caribbean and Asian descent are more likely to have strokes than people of other ethnic groups. This is linked to high incidences of hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes. It is very important, therefore, to have regular health checks
  • Family history – stroke is not hereditary, but if a close family member has had a stroke some of the risk factors may be hereditary such as high blood pressure, diabetes or abnormally high cholesterol
  • Gender – in people under 75 years of age men have more strokes than women

However by making some changes you can reduce your other risk factors.

High blood pressure (hypertension)

High blood pressure is the single most important risk factor for stroke, but usually has no obvious symptoms and you may not feel ill. If high blood pressure is not treated and kept under control it puts you at a much greater risk of a stroke. Treatment includes a change in your individual lifestyle risk factors where these can be improved. Changes in activity levels and diet can reduce your blood pressure and your doctor may also prescribe medication. Your blood pressure should continue to be checked at your GP surgery at least once a year once it has been controlled.


The risk of stroke for smokers is at least double that of a non smoker. This is because smoking can lead to problems with blood circulation causing arteries to ‘fur up’ resulting in stroke and heart disease. To reduce your risk we suggest that you stop smoking. It is never too late to quit and the benefits are immediate. You can receive support from hospital staff, stopping smoking or your GP surgery.


Drinking more than the recommended limits of alcohol raises blood pressure and can contribute to narrowing of the arteries. This can increase your risk of a stroke. Binge drinking – having six units or more at one sitting – raises blood pressure dramatically and greatly increases the risk of haemorrhagic stroke, caused by a burst blood vessel.Avoid binge drinking and stick to the recommended alcohol guidelines:
• No more than three to four units per day for men
• No more than two to three units per day for a woman
• One unit is equal to a small glass of wine (125 ml), a single measure of spirit (25ml), or half a pint of normal strength (4%) beer (285 ml).
• Note the strength of the alcohol will alter the size of one unit

Drug misuse

Recreational drug use has become a more frequent cause of stroke in young and middle-aged adults as it raises blood pressure quickly. Some parts of the the drugs can reach the brain or the eyes leading to stroke and visual loss.


Being overweight or obese will put you more at risk of stroke, diabetes, heart attack, joint problems and breathing problems. Fat stored around the waist is far more damaging in terms of our health than fat stored around the hips. Abdominal fat can increase the production of LDL (bad) cholesterol, the type of blood fat that can be deposited on the inside of blood vessel walls. Body mass index (BMI) or waist to hip ratio will be used to identify anyone who is overweight. A healthy diet and regular exercise will help. There are many options available to offer support in reducing your weight

Salt (sodium)

Evidence shows that cutting the amount of salt you have in your diet lowers blood pressure, both in people who already have high blood pressure and in those with normal blood pressure, and reduces the risk of stroke. Recommended daily intake of salt is 6g (2.4g of sodium) for adults, equivalent to one level teaspoon. Salt may also be labelled as monosodium glutamate or sodium bicarbonate.
• Try to avoid using salt at the table or adding during cooking
• Make more use of flavourings, such as fresh garlic, herbs and spices and have more freshly prepared meals
• Food may taste bland at first but your palate will adapt surprisingly quickly
• Be aware of foods with a high salt content such as savoury snacks and crisps, soup, ketchup, pickles, smoked meats and sausages, stock cubes, ready made meals and takeaway foods
• When buying tinned vegetables and fish choose those in water rather than in brine
• Check the food labels – it will be listed as either salt or sodium
• Choose products that contain less than 0.3g per 100g salt or 0.1g per 100g sodium.

Saturated fats

Foods containing fat have a combination of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fats raise cholesterol levels more than anything else in your diet. Saturated fats are found in, for example: butter, hard cheese, fatty meat, biscuits, pastries, cakes, hard margarines, ghee, suet, lard, cream, coconut oil.
• If you eat meat it is best to eat lean meat, or poultry such as chicken
• Remove any visible fat before cooking
• Avoid frying, try to grill or oven bake
• Choose healthier fats found in olive oil, rapeseed, corn oil, sunflower oil, nuts and seeds
• Include two to three portions of fish per week. At least one of which should be oily (such as herring, mackerel, sardines, kippers, salmon, or fresh tuna)

Healthy eating

A diet high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and plant based foods but low in fat, sugar and salt reduces the risk of a number of diseases, including stroke, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Fruit and vegetables are known to contain valuable vitamins, minerals, fibre and folate (folic acid). They also contain antioxidants that help protect the body’s cells from damage by harmful molecules called free radicals. Wholegrain cereals are also a valuable source of fibre which can help protect arteries. Briefly, a healthy diet means:
• The bulk of most meals should be starch based foods (such as cereals, wholegrain bread, potatoes, rice, pasta), plus fruit and vegetables
• Aim for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day as they can lower your risk of stroke by around 6%
• If you do not eat five portions per day try increasing your intake by just one serving per day
• Eat a high fibre diet such as porridge, beans, pulses, lentils, fruits and vegetables
• See also information on salt and saturated fats


Cholesterol plays an important role in repairing tissue which may have been damaged during a stroke. If you eat too much cholesterol it stays in your arteries which then increases the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
• Eating less saturated fat and taking more exercise will help to lower the average cholesterol level
• Limit saturated fat from dairy products like butter, full fat cheese, full fat milk and ice cream - choose low fat alternatives (see previous on Healthy Eating section)


Exercise plays a vital role in recovering from a stroke. However restricted your mobility, it is still possible to carry out some simple exercises which will improve your overall well being. Moderate exercise for a total of 30 minutes per day on at least five days per week can improve your health and help control your blood pressure. You just need to get slightly out of breath and feel a small increase in your heart rate to benefit from exercise. Always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise programme.
• Speak to a member of staff about the various exercise programmes that are available
• Try to include regular exercise into daily life
• After a stroke fatigue (tiredness) can also be a problem but you should try to exercise in whatever way fits in best for you. It may be the last thing you feel able to do but exercise will help to relieve your tiredness
• Start at a gentle level and slowly build up as much as you can tolerate without overdoing it


Stress does not cause a stroke but may have an effect on blood pressure which can contribute to the risk of a stroke.
• Take time to relax, in addition to other lifestyle changes you may need to introduce to keep your blood pressure under control
• Discuss with your team what is available in the Gateshead area – support groups, expert patient groups etc
• If you are very concerned ask if a referral to a psychologist or counsellor would be appropriate

Oral contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

The oral contraceptive pill or Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can increase the risk of stroke as they are often linked with thrombosis. However, the newer lower dose pills are safer but if you have any concerns, you should discuss these with your doctor.

Heart problems

Some patients with a stroke may also need medication for your heart – your doctor will explain this to you.

Atrial Fibrillation (irregular heartbeat)

An irregular heartbeat may lead to blood clots forming in the heart. These can break off and travel through the blood vessels to the brain where they may cut off the blood supply, causing a stroke. Atrial fibrillation can be detected and treated by your GP. Successful treatment of an irregular heartbeat can reduce your chance of a stroke.


People with diabetes have a slightly higher risk of stroke. Keeping careful control of
your blood pressure, weight and other risk factors is especially important. You should manage your diabetes through:
• Controlling your blood sugar
• Managing your weight
• Eating a healthy diet
• Keeping good levels of activity
• You may also attend diabetic review clinics.

Carotid stenosis

The carotid arteries in the neck can become blocked or partially blocked by fatty material (called plaques) building up on the blood vessel wall (artery). These plaques make the artery harder and narrower (called atherosclerosis) so blood has difficulty flowing. The plaques can also attract blood clots and other debris carried in the blood stream. This is carotid artery disease or carotid stenosis. If you have carotid artery disease it is particularly important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Carotid endarterectomy or carotid stenting may be recommended so it is important that you attend any review appointments that have been organised for you

Call us on 0191 482 0000

In emergencies dial 999 / Non-emergencies dial 111

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