Stroke Risk Factors
Uncontrollable and Controllable
There are two primary types of risk factors for stroke-those that are controllable and those that are not.
Uncontrollable stroke risk factors include:
Age: two-thirds of all strokes happen to people over age 65
Sex: men have a slightly higher stroke risk than females
Race: African-Americans have a higher stroke risk than most other racial groups
Family history of stroke
Diabetes: people with diabetes have a higher stroke risk
Controllable stroke risk factors, which are medically treatable, include
High blood pressure: High blood pressure, or hypertension, increases stroke risk 4 to 6 times. It is the single most important controllable risk factor.
Irregular heart beats and other heart diseases, such as atrial fibrillation increase stroke risk up to six times.
Coronary heart disease and high cholesterol: High cholesterol can directly and indirectly increase stroke risk by clogging blood vessels and putting people at greater risk of coronary heart disease, another important stroke risk factor.
Sleep disordered breathing/sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is a major cardiovascular and stroke risk factor that increases blood pressure rates, which may cause stroke or heart attack.
Personal history of stroke: People who have already had a stroke or warning symptoms of stroke are at risk for having another stroke. After suffering a stroke, men have a 42% chance of recurrent stroke within five years and women have a 24% chance of having another stroke. 35% of those who experience warning symptoms of stroke will have a stroke within five years, if not treated.
Lifestyle Changes and/or Medical Treatment
However, there other risk factors, listed below, that can be modified through changes in lifestyle and/or through medical treatment.
- Lack of exercise
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Excess weight
How to reduce your stroke risk?
There are many steps that you can take now to reduce your risk for stroke. See your Primary care doctor for regular check-ups. This will help early diagnosis and management of diseases known to increase stroke risk, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, irregular heart beats or diabetes.
- Stop smoking
- Eat healthy: decrease your consumption of foods high in fat, cholesterol and salt; trim fat/skin from poultry and meat; broil or bake, rather than fry, foods
- Limit alcohol consumption to no more than 2 drinks per day
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise on a regular basis
- Reduce your stress level; use relaxation techniques, exercise, yoga
- Maintain a balance between work, rest and leisure time
- Avoid using oral contraceptives, if you are a smoker
Remember that with proper attention to controllable stroke risk factors, the impact of uncontrollable factors can be greatly reduced.
Are you at risk for stroke?
To measure your risk for stroke, use our Stroke Risk Assessment profile below.
Each year, more than 750,000 Americans suffer a stroke. Strokes are our nation's third-leading cause of death and the number one cause of adult disability. Are you at risk for stroke? Take this quiz to find out. Check all that applies to you.
- You are a woman over 55 years old or you have passed menopause or had your ovaries removed.
- You are a man over 45 years old.
- You have diabetes or take medicine to control your blood sugar.
- You have coronary artery disease or you have had a heart attack.
- A doctor said you have carotid artery disease or you have had a stroke.
- You have an abnormal heartbeat.
- You have a close blood relative who had a stroke.
- You have a close blood relative who had a heart attack before age 55 (if father or brother) or before age 65 (if mother or sister).
- Your blood pressure is 140/90 millimeters of Mercury (mm/Hg) or higher or you have been told that your blood pressure is too high.
- You don't know what your blood pressure is.
- You smoke or live or work with people who smoke every day.
- Your total cholesterol level is 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) or higher.
- Your HDL ("good") cholesterol level is less than 35 mg/dL.
- You don't know your total cholesterol or HDL levels.
- You get less than a total of 30 minutes of physical activity on at least 3 days per week.
- You are 20 pounds or more overweight.
- You were told that you snore during sleep.
- You consume more than 3-4 alcoholic drinks everyday.
- You experienced sudden numbness or weakness of your face, arm or leg especially on one side of the body, trouble speaking or understanding, trouble seeing in one or both eyes, trouble walking, dizziness,loss of balance or coordination in the past.
If you check two or more, see a doctor for a complete and thorough assessment of your risks. You can reduce your risk of stroke, by becoming aware of your risk factors. These are the personal characteristics and habits that increase your chances of having a stroke or heart disease. Some risks you can't change or control; some you can, by making a few changes in your daily habits and lifestyle.
The Stroke Prevention Clinic at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center can help you determine the degree of your stroke risk and implement stroke preventative strategies.