Stroke Risk Factors

Medical Risk Factors

  • High blood pressure. This is the leading cause of stroke, so it is important to know your blood pressure, and have it checked regularly. Normal blood pressure is below 120/80. If you have high blood pressure, work with your health care provider to lower it with lifestyle changes or medication.
  • Diabetes. Having diabetes more than doubles your risk of stroke. Work with your health care provider to manage the disease.
  • High cholesterol. High cholesterol increases the risk of blocked arteries and if an artery to the brain becomes blocked a stroke can result.
  • Carotid or other artery disease. The carotid arteries in your neck supply most of the blood to your brain. When the artery wall becomes narrowed or blocked, a blood clot can form and cause a stroke.
  • Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). TIAs produce stroke symptoms, but most have no lasting effects. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce the risk of a major stroke. TIAs are associated with a much higher risk of having a stroke that leads to disability.
  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib) or heart diseases. In AFib, the heart’s upper chambers quiver rather than beat in an organized, rhythmic way. This can cause the blood to pool and clot, which increases the risk of stroke. Having AFib increases the risk of stroke by five times. People with other heart disease also have a high risk of stroke.
  • Certain blood disorders. A high red blood cell count makes clots more likely, raising the risk of stroke. Sickle cell anemia increases stroke risk because blood cells can stick to vessel walls and may block arteries. Some people may have a disposition to form blood clots, which leads to a greater risk of stroke.
  • Sleep apnea. Sleep disordered breathing contributes to the risk of stroke. The more severe the apnea, the greater the risk.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

  • Smoking. Smoking damages blood vessels, which can lead to blockages and cause stroke. Don’t smoke and avoid second hand smoke.
  • Physical inactivity and obesity. Being inactive, obese, or both, can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Excessive alcohol intake. Drinking can raise blood pressure and increase stroke risk. Binge drinking can also lead to stroke.
  • Illegal drug use. Drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines, and heroin are all associated with an increased risk of stroke.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

  • Increasing age. Stroke affects people of all ages, but risk increases as we age.
  • Gender. Women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke than men do. Use of birth control pills and pregnancy pose special stroke risks for women.
  • Heredity and race. People with a family history of stroke also carry a higher risk. African Americans have a higher risk of death and disability from stroke than whites. Hispanic Americans also have a higher risk of stroke.
  • Prior stroke. Someone who has suffered a stroke or TIA is at higher risk for having another one.