According to the American Heart Association, stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. And although many people survive these medical emergencies, the disease can have a devastating impact, not only on the survivor, but on everyone who cares about him or her.

A stroke is a type of cardiovascular disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. If a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain bursts or is blocked by a clot, a stroke may occur. When this happens, some of the brain cannot get the Reducing Your Risk According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many of the risk factors for stroke can be minimized. It's all a matter of identifying these risks and taking action to keep them under control.

Risk Factor: High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is one of the leading causes of stroke. An estimated 60 million people in the United States have high blood pressure, which occurs when the pressure of blood in the arteries is too high. There are often no symptoms to alert people that they have this condition.

How to Lower Your Risk: To maintain healthy blood pressure, experts at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommend increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables and lowering sodium intake. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, if everyone in the United States ate one less teaspoon of salt each day, their collective blood pressures would drop enough to decrease the national stroke rate by 11 percent.

Risk Factor: Heart Disease Heart disorders such as coronary artery disease (CAD) can increase one's risk for stroke. CAD occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed due to the buildup of plaque. This can result in blocked blood flow and may lead to a heart attack or stroke.

How to Lower Your Risk: Those with heart disease may be given medicines such as aspirin or warfarin to help prevent blood clots from forming. In addition, the American Heart Association recommends maintaining a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fiber, lean meats, and fat-free or 1 percent dairy products, while avoiding foods high in saturated and trans fats. Exercise is also key-strive for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.

Risk Factor: Diabetes
When a person has diabetes, his or her body either doesn't produce enough insulin, cannot effectively use its own insulin, or both. This causes sugars to be unavailable to body tissues and to build up in the blood. People with diabetes have up to four times the risk of stroke as those who don't have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. And diabetics often have a worse outlook for recovering from a stroke.

How to Lower Your Risk: The recently completed Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) study conclusively showed that people with pre-diabetes (blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes) can prevent the development of type 2 diabetes by making changes in their diet and increasing their level of physical activity. They may even be able to return their blood glucose levels to the normal range. While the DPP also showed that some medications may delay the development of diabetes, diet and exercise worked better. Just 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity, coupled with a 5 to 10 percent reduction in body weight, produced a 58 percent reduction in diabetes.

If you have diabetes, The American Diabetes Association recommends maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diabetes-friendly diet, and increasing physical activity, with the goal of reaching 10,000 steps a day, to prevent complications.

Risk Factor: Smoking
The nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke damage the cardiovascular system in numerous ways, and smokers have a much higher risk of stroke than non-smokers, according to the American Heart Association. Nicotine also raises blood pressure, and carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen that blood can carry to the brain.

How to Lower Your Risk: The ultimate goal is to quit smoking. Nicotine gum, nicotine patches, and smoking-cessation programs can assist smokers in kicking the habit. According to the National Stroke Association, once someone stops smoking, his or her stroke risk will drop significantly within two years. Within five years of quitting, the stroke risk may be the same as that of someone who has never smoked.