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What are the risk factors for stroke?

Besides high blood pressure, other risk factors for strokes include:

  • smoking
  • high cholesterol 
  • obesity

The good news is, if you are able to stop smoking, lower your blood pressure and maintain a healthy weight you will reduce your risk for strokes, while also lowering your risk for a heart attack.

The risk factors for stroke are cumulative, so reducing even one will lower your overall risk for stroke.

  • Age: The chance of having a stroke approximately doubles for each decade of life after age 55. In addition, researchers have noted a surge in strokes among women between 40 and 55 that can be tied to metabolic risk factors including increased abdominal weight and diabetes. There are also certain risk factors that apply directly to women under 55.
  • Family history: If a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke, you are at increased risk for having one too.
  • Ethnic background: According to the National Stroke Association, blacks experience stroke earlier in their lives and are twice as likely to die from stroke than are whites. Hispanics and Native Americans also have increased risk for stroke. For these groups, higher rates of stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity may be responsible for higher rates of stroke.
  • Prior stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) is another stroke risk factor.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and the most important controllable risk factor.
  • Heart disease or prior heart attack: Heart disease, including arterial disease, coronary heart disease, heart failure and atrial fibrillation, can contribute to an increased risk for stroke.
  • Persistent symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea, great fatigue, angina/chest pain, fainting spells and gas-like discomfort, are red flags.
  • Smoking: Cigarette smoking on its own is a significant risk factor for stroke. When oral contraceptives are used in combination with cigarette smoking, stroke risk is greatly increased.
  • Poor diet: Diets high in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and/or sodium can increase stroke risk. In contrast, a diet containing five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day may reduce risk.
  • Diabetes, drug or alcohol abuse, high cholesterol, obesity, physical inactivity and sickle cell anemia all can increase risk for stroke.

Risk factors for stroke include the following:

  • high blood pressure
  • heart problems
  • diabetes
  • being overweight
  • having high levels of blood fat
  • smoking
  • older age

Among the factors that increase the risk of stroke, some are out of our control. Those we inherit from our parents are beyond our control. Others can be controlled by making healthy lifestyle choices and working with your doctor. 

Risk factors you cannot control 

  • Family history. If your family members had a stroke, your risk of having one is higher. 
  • Race. If you are of African American heritage, you are at higher risk of stroke than someone of Caucasian descent. 
  • Gender. Men are more likely to have a stroke than women, but women account for more deaths due to stroke than men. 
  • Age. The older you are, the higher your risk for stroke. A previous stroke, TIA or heart attack. Your chance of stroke is higher if you had one or if you have had a heart attack. 

Risk factors you can control or treat 

  • High blood pressure. Medical science points to high blood pressure as most important risk factor we can control to lower the risk of stroke. 
  • Cigarette smoking. Giving up tobacco helps lower the risk of stroke. Studies found the combination of oral contraceptives and smoking greatly increases the risk of stroke. 
  • Diabetes. Diabetes contributes to the risk for stroke. 
  • High cholesterol. People with high blood cholesterol have an increased risk for stroke. Having a low HDL cholesterol level has been identified as a risk factor for stroke in men. More data is needed to determine its impact on the risk of stroke in women. 
  • Diet. Eating foods that contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and overweight increases the risk of stroke. 
  • Physical inactivity. Not getting regular exercise can contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes and heart disease, all risk factors for stroke. 
  • Disease of the arteries. A build-up of plaque inside the walls of your arteries, in your heart, your legs and especially in the carotid arteries in the neck-carry blood to the brain, can increase the risk of stroke. Heart disease. The presence of heart disease and atrial fibrillation (AF) raises the risk of stroke. In AF, because the heartbeat is fast and irregular, blood can pool and clot in the heart. This raises the risk that a clot will break loose, travel to the brain and cause a stroke. 
  • Sickle cell disease. People with sickle cell disease, which is inherited, are at higher risk for stroke.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.