Learn More About Risk Factors for Stroke

Risk Factors for Stroke

Some risk factors are not under your control.

  • Age (risk increases with age)
  • Gender (men have a greater risk than women)
  • Family history (stroke or heart disease)
  • Ethnicity (such as Aboriginal, African, South Asian)
  • History of stroke or TIA

Some risk factors are under your control.

Risk factor What you can do…
Tobacco use

Quit tobacco products. This will help to reduce further plaque build-up in your arteries and will also help to prevent blood from clotting or sticking to the plaque. You are more likely to be successful in quitting smoking if you plan ahead and have support:

  • Get help and counselling from your stroke team or family doctor.
  • Make your home and car smoke-free.
  • Use quit smoking medications like the nicotine patches to manage your cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Nicotine replacement products are available for free – talk to your stroke team or family doctor.

Contact Smokers’ Helpline for support and information on medications to help you quit:

High blood pressure
  • Keep your blood pressure in check. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke.
  • Check your blood pressure regularly. Your blood pressure should be less than 140/90, or less than 130/80 if you have diabetes. If your blood pressure is consistently above these numbers, follow up with your family doctor.
Excessive alcohol
  • Reduce alcohol intake.
  • For women: less than 10 drinks per week and no more than 2 a day.
  • For men: less than 15 drinks per week and no more than 3 a day.
High Cholesterol
  • Aim for an LDL cholesterol level less than 2.0.
  • Keep your blood sugars within the normal range.
  • If you have diabetes, see your family doctor every 3 months to have your bloodwork checked.
  • Aim for a 3 month average blood sugar, also called Hemoglobin A1C of less than 7%.
Food Choices
  • Healthy food choices can improve your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight, decreasing your risk for stroke.
  • Slowly re-introduce exercise as you recover, ask your nurse or medical team for guidance.
  • Gradually work up to include at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
  • Regular exercise can lower blood pressure, cholesterol and improve your blood sugars.
  • Identify your stressors, be active, make time for yourself, and laugh often.
  • Try to find a balance in your work, personal time and activities.
  • Find someone you can talk to. This is an important way to reduce stress.
Atrial Fibrillation
  • Atrial fibrillation is a type of irregular heart beat that can cause blood clots to form in the heart. These clots can travel to the brain and cause a stroke.
  • If you have atrial fibrillation, you may be started on a medication to prevent blood clots from forming in the heart. This medication is called an anticoagulant.
  • It is important that you take this medication as directed by your health care provider.

Make healthy food choices

Members of the health care team will teach you, your family and support persons about:

  • Eat mostly plant-based foods daily such as:
    • vegetables and fruit
    • legumes (such as kidney beans, black beans, chick peas and lentils)
    • nuts, nut butters and seeds (unsalted)
    • whole grains such as whole grain bread, brown rice or pasta, couscous, quinoa, barley, bulgur and wheat berries
  • Eat fish a few times a week.
  • Choose white meat such as chicken or turkey. Limit red meat. Avoid processed or cured meats.
  • Include low fat dairy products such as milk, milk alternatives (fortified soy beverage) or yogurt daily.
  • Limit cheese to portions the size of your thumb.
  • Include healthy oils such as olive oil or canola oil.
  • Limit sweets to once a week or less.
  • Avoid soft drinks and juice. Drink water when thirsty and eat fruit instead.

What do healthy servings look like?

Before you put food on your plate, in your mind divide your plate into 4 equal parts:

  • Fill ½ of your plate with vegetables (such as broccoli, asparagus, green beans, carrots, lettuce or other green leafy vegetables). Vegetables contain fibre, plenty of vitamins and minerals,
    and are low in calories.
  • Fill ¼ of your plate with whole grains or starchy vegetables such as potatoes (white or sweet) or corn.
  • Fill the other ¼ of your plate with protein foods such as fish, lean meats, eggs, and meatless protein choices like legumes (such as kidney beans, black beans, chick peas or lentils) or tofu.
  • Have a glass of water, milk or milk alternative (fortified soy beverage) and a piece of fruit to complete your meals.

Use this picture as a guideline to help you keep healthy servings on your plate.


Did you know most Canadians get ½ of the fibre they need every day? In general, adults should get 25 to 38 grams each day.

To increase your fibre include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, oats, oat bran, ground flax seed, psyllium, and dried or canned legumes such as kidney beans, black beans, chick peas or lentils.


Limit your intake of salt (sodium).

Most of the sodium in your diet comes from processed foods and restaurant or take-out meals. Adults should have less than 2000 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day.


The Central South Regional Stroke Network would like to acknowledge the Central South Regional Stroke Network Patient and Family Advisory Council, The Central South Regional Stroke Passport Working Group, Hamilton Health Sciences, our hospital and community stroke service provider partners, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation for their contributions to the development of this website.



The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images, and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always see the advice of your physician or health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

The information contained in this website is by no means a complete listing of the programs or services available. The Central South Regional Stroke Network does not endorse or support the information contained within the links to external sites, nor can we assume responsibility for the accuracy of the information. The mention of products and services should not be assumed to be an endorsement of any kind.