Watch CBSN Live

Stroke Prevention: What We Know

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts, and the brain is damaged in that area. The consequences can be catastrophic, says Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.

A stroke can kill quickly, brain damage can paralyze or rob a victim of the ability to speak and think properly. It can take years to recover from a debilitating stroke and many people never fully regain all of the abilities or mental faculties.

But there are certain risk factors for stroke that have been identified that should serve as a basis for early intervention so future problems can be prevented

You can't do anything about some risk factors, but they should serve as a basis for further examination: old age, male sex, nonwhite race, and existing heart disease or family history of heart disease are all independent risk factors.

If you have more than one of these factors, the risk of stroke increases even more. Heart disease especially is a major red flag. And if you've had a mild stroke, your risk of a major stroke goes way up, says Dr. Senay, especially in the first few days afterward.

If you fall into a stroke risk category, you should definitely seek the advice of your doctor. Physicians can keep track of some important aspects of your health that can be controlled, thus reducing risk.

Risk factors that can be controlled are obesity, smoking, physical inactivity and heavy alcohol use, diabetes, heart arrythmia, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, Dr. Senay adds.

These are risk factors that you can try to modify the hard way through diet and exercise, but if that doesn't work, your doctor can also prescribe drugs to control high cholesterol, diabetes, arrythmia and high blood pressure. Aspirin therapy for people with heart disease also significantly lowers the risk of a stroke, she says.