Stroke is a leading cause of death and the leading cause of disability in adults in the United States. According to experts, the risk factors for a stroke fall into three categories:
- Risks that can’t be changed. These are typically hereditary factors - things you were born with.
- Risks that can be changed, treated or managed. These tend to be lifestyle choices, such as your diet and exercise habits.
- Other, miscellaneous factors. These are things that you have some, but not complete control of.
Stroke risk factors that you can’t change:
- Age: After 55, your chances of stroke doubles each decade. However, stroke does affect younger individuals too.
- Family history: Has a relative – parent, grandparent, sister or brother – had a stroke? This might increase your risk as well.
- Race: African-Americans have a much greater risk of stroke than Caucasians do, in part, to a higher risk of high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity.
- Gender: Women have a greater risk of stroke than men. Stroke causes death in more women than men. Experts attribute this higher incident in women to the use of birth control pills; pregnancy; diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes); pre-eclampsia/eclampsia (a dangerous medical condition during pregnancy that causes high blood pressure); smoking; and hormone replacement therapy to manage menopausal symptoms.
- Prior history: There is a much greater risk of stroke for someone who already suffered one. There is also great risk of stroke for an individual who has experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a heart attack.
Factors that can be changed, treated or managed:
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure is the leading cause of strokes.
- Smoking: Nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke damage the cardiovascular system.
- Diabetes: Diabetes is a treatable disease. However, many people with diabetes are also overweight and have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, conditions that put them at greater risk for stroke.
- Carotid, peripheral or other artery diseases: These conditions cause your arteries to become narrow or blocked due to fatty deposits, which increases your stroke risk.
- Atrial fibrillation or other heart disease: Any type of heart disease puts you at greater risk for stroke.
- Sickle cell disease/anemia: This genetic disorder typically affects African-American and Hispanic children. With this disease, your cells have difficulty carrying oxygen to your tissues and organs. Cells also stick to and block your artery walls. This increases your chance of stroke.
- High cholesterol: Having high “bad” cholesterol is a risk factor for stroke. In addition, too low levels of “good” cholesterol may be dangerous, too.
- Poor diet: Having a high intake of fats, cholesterol, salt and calories is dangerous.
- Obesity or physical inactivity: Being inactive, overweight or obese are all unhealthy and increase your risk of stroke. Find ways to incorporate activity into your daily life.
- Where you live: Strokes are more common in the Southeastern United States.
- Your income: Stroke risk is more common in individuals with lower incomes.
- Alcohol abuse: Medical professionals advise no more than two drinks per day for men; no more than one drink daily for women. Pregnant women should never consume alcohol.
- Drug abuse: Heavy use of drugs and drug addiction is associated with stroke and other health problems, especially in younger people.
Where can you learn more?
The best way to reduce your risk is to immediately start managing any stroke risk factors you may have. Keep in mind that while there are some things you can't change, you still have control, and a balanced diet, exercise and an overall healthy lifestyle are always beneficial.
Live Healthy. Live Smart.