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Stand up to stroke

You may be worried about getting breast cancer, but don’t discount your risk of a stroke—it’s the third most common cause of death in the United States. Stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer. And it’s not just a man’s problem: Women ages 45 to 54 are two-and-a-half times more likely than similarly aged men to suffer a stroke, according to one study. Fortunately, about 80 percent of strokes are preventable.

Some risk factors can’t be changed, such as your age (risk increases as you get older) and personal or family history of heart attack or stroke. But you have the power to change other risk factors, such as:

  • High blood pressure. Experts believe that getting your blood pressure in check is the single most important action you can take to ward off stroke.
  • High cholesterol. Too much “bad” cholesterol or not enough “good” cholesterol is a red flag, particularly for men. More research is needed to determine whether there’s as strong a link in women, but lowering high levels is always a good idea.
  • Heart disease. Clogged arteries, heart rhythm disorders and heart valve problems increase stroke risk. See a cardiologist to help you keep your condition under control.
  • Diabetes. Simply having the disease means you’re more likely to have a stroke, but monitoring and treating diabetes can help.
  • Smoking. Cigarettes are deadly. Kick the habit to breathe easier and lower your risk of stroke.
  • Lack of exercise. Being a couch potato can lead to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, all of which can raise your stroke risk. For better health, add 30 minutes of physical activity to your day at least five days a week.
  • Unhealthy diet. Eating loads of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and salt can lead to hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity and stroke. Instead, focus on fruits and vegetables. Research suggests that eating five or more servings daily can reduce your risk.
  • Hormone therapy. Researchers with the Women’s Health Initiative found that postmenopausal women who used hormone therapy had an increased risk of stroke. Hormone therapy is still the most effective way to combat menopause symptoms like hot flashes, so ask your healthcare provider whether hormones are right for you.