Stroke Risk Factors

Understand the causes of stroke

Every patient is different – stroke may occur in a given patient for any number of reasons. Research has shown, however, that there are several risk factors that increase a person’s risk of stroke. Familiarizing yourself with the various controllable and uncontrollable risk factors can reduce your chances of stroke.

Risk factors you cannot control include: Stroke Risk Scorecard

  • Age - For every 10 years you live, your risk of having a stroke increases.
  • Gender - Women have more strokes than men each year and stroke kills more women than men.
  • Race - African Americans have 2 times greater risk of stroke than other races; Hispanics and Asians have the greatest risk for stroke from burst blood vessels.
  • Past stroke or TIA - If you've already had a stroke or a TIA (a brief clot that blocks the blood supply to the brain), your risk for stroke is now greater. TIAs do not cause lasting damage; however, they are a warning sign that you may have a stroke soon if you do not get on the right medicine and begin to make healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Family history - Your risk of a stroke is greater when heart attack, stroke, or TIA runs in your family.
  • Atrial fibrillation or AFib - This is the most common type of irregular heartbeat. It happens when one or both of the upper chambers of the heart (called the atria) don't beat the way they should. This can cause blood to pool and a blood clot can form. If that clot breaks away from the heart, it can travel to the brain, where it can cause a stroke. Taking anticoagulant medicine can help prevent this from happening.

Risk factors you can control include:

  • High blood pressure - The #1 risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure. Another name for this is hypertension. When you control your blood pressure, you can greatly reduce your risk of stroke. Talk to your doctor to learn what your blood pressure should be. If you are on blood pressure medication, you should take your medicine at the same time every day. You should also take your blood pressure daily.
  • Smoking - Smoking is a major risk for stroke because it causes your blood to clot easier. Each time you smoke, this increases the buildup of plaque in your arteries. Over time, your arteries narrow and your blood pressure increases as a result of the smoking and nicotine.
  • High cholesterol - An unhealthy cholesterol balance can lead to fat deposits in the arteries. These deposits are called plaque. Plaque narrows the arteries and can lead to stroke. Follow your doctor's guidelines for regular cholesterol testing. The best time for a cholesterol check is after you have not eaten for several hours. You should learn what your cholesterol numbers are.
  • Obesity - Excess weight increases your risk of stroke. People who have a stroke or heart disease often have excess body fat around their lower belly, or abdomen. This is sometimes called an 'apple shape'. Obesity can also bring other risk factors with it, such as high blood pressure, higher bad cholesterol and diabetes. Weight control and exercise improve your circulation and help reduce other risk factors.
  • Alcohol, caffeine, & drug use - Heavy alcohol use increases the risk for stroke. Drinking three or more cups of coffee a day may increase the risk of stroke in older men with high blood pressure. Use of street drugs, especially cocaine and amphetamines, is a major stroke risk. Using steroids for body building also increases the risk of stroke.
  • Stress - Studies show a link between mental stress and the narrowing of the carotid arteries. Learning and practicing ways to reduce stress may help reduce your risk of stroke.
  • Poor nutrition - A diet high in unhealthy fat, sugar, and salt puts you at risk for stroke. Studies show that eating 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day will reduce your risk of stroke by 30%.