Stroke Risk Factors

There are some stroke risk factors that you can change or treat. Others you cannot. As the old addage says, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” Knowing your risk factors can be the key to prevention. Focus on the factors you can change and you lower your risk for a stroke. Before my husband’s stroke, he had most of the risk factors that he could change, but he chose not to. It’s still not too late for him to reduce his risk factors to prevent further strokes.

Stroke Risk Factors

Factors you can change or treat:

High Blood Pressure – This is the most important risk factor, so i’s important that you know your blood pressure. Blood pressure is given in two numbers, for example 120/80. The first number (systolic) is a measurement of the force your blood exerts on blood vessel walls as your heart pumps. The second number (diastolic) is the measurement of the force your blood exerts on blood vessel walls when your heart is at rest between beats. Blood pressure that is consistently higher than 120/80 can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure). Blood pressure can be controlled with medication, diet and exercise.

Tobacco Use – Smoking of tobacco (cigarettes, pipe, cigar) is a leading cause of artery disease. Tobacco contains chemicals that constrict (narrow) the arteries and causes plaque build-up, making a blood clot more likely.

High Cholesterol – High blood cholesterol increases the risk of clogged arteries. If an artery leading to the brain becomes blocked, a stroke occurs.

Diabetes – Having diabetes increases your risk so it’s important that you work closely with your doctor to manage it. If you have diabetes, make sure your blood glucose level is below 126 mg/dL, modify your diet and never stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor first.

Physical Inactivity & Obesity – Being inactive and/or obese can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Try to get at least a total of 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on most days.

Poor Diet – Diets high in salt can contribute to increased blood pressure, and high caloric diets can contribute to obesity. Diets high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels. A diet with five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day may reduce the risk of stroke.

Excessive Alcohol – An average of more than one a day for women or two drinks a day for men raises blood pressure and can lead to stroke.

Illegal Drugs – Intravenous drug abuse carries a high risk of stroke from cerebral embolism (a clot or other particle that lodges in the brain). Cocaine use has been linked to strokes and heart attacks. Some have bedn fatal even in first time users.

Other risk factors:

Carotid or Artery Disease – This disease affects the arteries throughout the body which become damaged by a fatty buildup of plaque inside the artery wall. The carotid arteries in the neck supply blood to the brain, and if one of them becomes blocked by a blood clot, it causes a stroke. People with peripheral artery disease (PAD) have a higher risk of stroke.

Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs) – These are “mini strokes” that produce stroke-like symptoms but have no lasting effects. Most TIAs are warning signs of an impending major stroke, so prompt treatment can greatly reduce risk of stroke.

Atrial Fibrillation or other Heart Disease – Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an important, treatable stroke risk factor. In AF, the heart’s upper chambers quiver instead of beating effectively. This lets the blood pool and clot. If a clot breaks off, enters the blood stream and lodges in an artery supplying blood to a part of the brain, a stroke results..

Risk factors you cannot change:

  • Your Age – the older you are, the higher your risk
  • Being a man
  • Being African American
  • Someone in your family has had a stroke