Stroke risk factors: what you should know
DIANA RODRIGUEZ Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
About 50 percent of people who survive a stroke will be disabled in a
way that prevents them from being completely independent and taking care
of everyday activities. The good news? Nearly 80 percent of all strokes
can be prevented if you know your risk factors, and make changes that
can decrease your risk.
Stroke risk factors: what you canít control
There are a number of risk factors for stroke that you canít do
anything about, except to be aware of them and take other steps to
improve your overall health:
Your age. If youíre 55 or older, youíre at an increased stroke risk,
and that risk rises every year as you age.
Your gender. Women recently seem to be edging ahead of men in overall
number of strokes; whatís more, women are consistently more likely than
men to die from a stroke.
Your race. African-Americans are more likely than Caucasians to die
from ischemic stroke, the most common type, and Hispanics are more
likely to die from hemorrhagic stroke.
Your family history. If you have a close relative, a parent,
grandparent, or sibling who has had a stroke, your stroke risk goes up.
Your medical history. If youíve already had a stroke, a transient
ischemic attack (TIA, or a warning stroke), or a heart attack you are at
greater risk of having a stroke. People who have atrial fibrillation (a
disease in which the heart beats abnormally) or sickle cell anemia (a
disease in which the malformed shape of red blood cells mean less oxygen
reaches organs and tissues throughout the body) are also at increased
risk for stroke. Sleep apnea, a condition that causes breathing to
temporarily stop during sleep, can also increase your risk of stroke.
If you have any of the above stroke risk factors, you should be
especially careful to alter the ones you can do something about.
Stroke risk factors: what you can control
Some of the biggest risk factors for stroke are things that you DO
have control over:
Health conditions. If you have conditions like high blood pressure,
high cholesterol, diabetes, atherosclerosis, or heart disease, do
everything possible to keep them well controlled to reduce your risk of
stroke. For instance, medication, diet, and exercise can really help you
manage high blood pressure and high cholesterol and some of the other
Your diet. Filling up on unhealthy foods that are high in fat,
calories, and sodium can contribute to high cholesterol and high blood
pressure - and to an increased risk of stroke. Switching to a
heart-healthy diet can quickly bring results.
Being sedentary. If youíre not getting up and moving around enough,
and not getting regular activity most days of the week, youíre putting
yourself at a greater risk for stroke, as well as for a whole host of
other health conditions. Get moving! Obesity. If youíre overweight, you
are increasing your risk of stroke. And if you are a woman past
menopause, keep an eye on your waistline - a measurement over 35 inches
puts you at higher risk for stroke.
Smoking. Cigarettes cause damage to your cardiovascular system that
can increase your stroke risk. Quit now.
Taking hormones. Hormone replacement therapy, also called HRT, or
birth control pills can up your stroke risk by increasing your risk of
developing a blood clot.
Stroke risk factors: other potential risks
Though not as well researched, there are other reasons that some
groups of people seem to be at a greater risk of stroke. For instance,
people who live in the southeastern United States seem to have more
strokes than people in other areas of the country. People who live on
low incomes also seem to be at an increased stroke risk. And excess use
of alcohol and the use of illegal drugs are both linked to a greater
You donít have to move across the country to reduce your risk of
stroke, but you do have to clear the chips and cookies out of the pantry
and stick to fresh fruits and veggies.
You also have to make exercise an important part of each day and keep
your health conditions under control. Making these healthy changes will
help you reduce your risk of stroke - and a number of other health
conditions as well.