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Identifying Stroke Risk Factors

Risk factors are traits and lifestyle habits that increase the risk of disease. The more risk factors you have, the higher your chances of having a stroke. The best way to prevent a stroke is to reduce your stroke risk factors. A healthcare provider can help you change factors that result from lifestyle or environment.

Modifiable risk factors (start managing):

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) – AFib increases your risk of stroke because the irregular and often rapid heart rate can cause blood clots to develop and travel to your brain. Medications can be taken to help reduce the risk of blood clots and prevent existing blood clots from getting bigger.

Diabetes – Carefully monitor your blood sugar, follow up with your primary care provider and take your medications regularly. Having diabetes can put you at an increased risk for stroke.

Diet – Cutting down on salt and fat can help you lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

High blood cholesterol – Monitoring your cholesterol levels regularly, eating a healthy diet and taking medications can decrease your risk for stroke. Your HDL “good” cholesterol should be greater than 40mg/dLx–60mg/dL, and your LDL “bad” cholesterol should be between 50–70mg/dL.

High blood pressure – Optimal blood pressure is less than 120mmHg/80mmHg. Checking your blood pressure regularly and taking medications could decrease your risk for stroke.

Obesity – Manage your weight through diet and exercise.

Obstructive sleep apnea – In this disorder, you stop breathing in your sleep for 10 seconds or more. Symptoms may include loud snoring, disruptive sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness. An overnight sleep study will need to be conducted to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea.

Carotid disease – Carotid arteries in your neck supply blood to your brain. A carotid artery narrowed by fatty deposits from atherosclerosis (buildup of plaque in the artery wall) may become blocked by a blood clot. Carotid artery disease also is called carotid artery stenosis.

Peripheral artery disease – This condition is caused by the narrowing of vessels carrying blood to the leg and arm muscles. The blood vessels narrow because fatty plaque builds up in artery walls.

Sickle cell disease – In this genetic disorder, sickle-shaped red blood cells are less able to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs. They tend to stick to blood vessel walls, blocking arteries to the brain and causing a stroke.

Modifiable risk factors (stop!):

  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Using illegal drugs
  • Being inactive
  • Smoking or being exposed to secondhand smoke

Non-modifiable risk factors:

Increasing age – People of all ages can have a stroke, but the older you are the more your risk increases for stroke.

Sex (gender) – Stroke is more common in men than in women. In most age groups, more men than women have stroke in a given year. However, women account for more than half of all stroke deaths. Women who are pregnant, take birth control pills and smoke, or have high blood pressure are all at an increased risk for stroke.

Heredity (family history) and race – Your risk of stroke or aneurysm (including rupture) is greater if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke or aneurysm. African Americans have a much higher risk of death from a stroke or aneurysm rupture than Caucasians. Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death for Hispanics living in the United States, and Hispanics have different risk factors for stroke. Compared to Caucasians, Hispanics have strokes at younger ages.

Prior stroke or heart attack – Previous strokes (including those from ruptured aneurysms) or heart attacks increase the risk of having another stroke.