By Dr Deidre Anne De Silva, Consultant, Department of Neurology, National Neuroscience Institute (Singapore General Hospital campus), a member of the SingHealth group

Control blood pressure

High blood pressure is the most important risk factor in stroke prevention. Uncontrolled hypertension increases four-fold your risk of stroke. High blood pressure should be treated if it is repeatedly above 140/90 mmHg. If you have diabetes, your blood pressure should be below 130/85 mmHg. In addition to medication, lifestyle plays an important role in controlling blood pressure. Having a healthy diet, reducing your intake of alcohol and salt and exercising regularly are some lifestyle measures that reduce blood pressure.

Control blood sugar levels

Diabetes causes high blood sugar levels in the body. Uncontrolled diabetes over a long period of time can cause damage to your blood vessels and nerves. The risk of stroke is 1.5 times more in diabetics. Good control of blood sugar in diabetics reduces the risk of stroke. A healthy diet, taking medication as prescribed by your doctors and regular monitoring is crucial in controlling blood sugar levels.

Control cholesterol levels

High cholesterol can cause the narrowing of blood vessels in your body. This can lead to blockage of the blood flow to your vital organs including the brain, increasing the risk of stroke. Diet control including reducing intake of foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats, such as coconut milk, deep fried foods and seafood, as well as medication can control cholesterol levels.

Stop smoking

Smoking increases your risk of stroke by 1.5 to 2.5 times. This risk is significantly reduced as soon as you stop smoking, and will be equivalent to that of a non-smoker within five years of stopping. So stop smoking today. Consult your doctor who can help you to stop smoking.

Maintain an ideal body weight

Obesity is the accumulation of excess body fat. It is associated with various stroke risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. Stroke risk is particularly high with fat disposits around the abdominal region. You can calculate your body mass index (BMI) by using your height and weight. To obtain your BMI, simply divide your weight in kgs by your height x height in metres. The ideal range for an Asian body frame is 18.5 to 23.9. An ideal body weight is maintained by having a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

Have a healthy diet

An unhealthy diet increases the risk of stroke, as well as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Excessive salt and alcohol consumption contributes to high blood pressure. Start today with a healthier diet that has an appropriate calorie intake and is high in fibre and low in cholesterol; reduce your salt intake.

Exercise regularly

Stroke risk is higher with a sedentary lifestyle. Exercise at least 3-5 times a week, 30-60 minutes each time. Find an exercise regime that suits your lifestyle and personality. Regular exercise helps to reduce obesity and also aids in the prevention and management of high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.

Take your medication as instructed

If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, it is important to take your medication as instructed by your doctor, even if you feel fine. High blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol can be effectively controlled with medication. Not taking the prescribed medication will increase your risk of stroke.

go for regular health screenings

Have yearly health checks to monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels once you are over 40 years of age. By adopting a regular health screening regime, these stroke risk factors can be detected early.

Know the signs of stroke — remember FAST

A stroke is sometimes preceded by warning symptoms called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA is an attack of stroke symptoms that resolves completely after a few minutes. However, a TIA is often followed by a stroke which can cause disability and death. Thus, it is important to go to a hospital emergency department as soon as possible if you experience symptoms of a TIA.

Remember FAST to recall the symptoms of stroke or TIA:

F is for facial drooping when the person is asked to smile;
A is for arm weakness where the arm drifts when raised;
S is for speech that is slurred or cannot be understood; and
T is for time to act fast by calling 995 and getting to a hospital as soon as possible.

Reproduced with permission from SingHealth’s Health Xchange, Singapore’s first interactive health and lifestyle resource portal. For more information, visit

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