Stroke Risk Factors & Prevention

Anyone can have a stroke regardless of race, age, or gender. Hispanics and African Americans have a slightly higher risk. The best way to prevent stroke is to manage the risk factors.

The risk factors for stroke that can be controlled or changed include:

High blood pressure
This is the single most important risk factor. Know your blood pressure and have it checked at least once every two years, or more often if it is above the normal range. It should be lower than 140/90 mm Hg.

Tobacco use
Cigarette smoking is the number one preventable risk factor for stroke. Do not smoke or use other forms of tobacco. The nicotine and carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood. They also damage the walls of blood vessels, making clots more likely to form. The use of some oral contraceptives combined with cigarette smoking greatly increases stroke risk.

Diabetes mellitus
While diabetes is treatable, having it still increases a person’s risk for stroke. People with diabetes often also have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and are overweight, increasing their stroke risk even more. If you have diabetes, work closely with your doctor to manage it.

Carotid or other artery disease
The carotid arteries in your neck supply blood to your brain. A carotid artery narrowed by fatty deposits from atherosclerosis may become blocked by a blood clot. Peripheral artery disease is the narrowing of blood vessels carrying blood to leg and arm muscles. People with peripheral artery disease have a higher risk of carotid artery disease, which raises their risk of stroke.

Atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation raises the risk for stroke because the heart’s upper chambers quiver instead of beating effectively. This lets the blood pool and clot. If a clot breaks off, enters the bloodstream and lodges in an artery leading to the brain, a stroke results.

Other heart disease
People with coronary heart disease or heart failure have more than twice the risk of stroke as those with hearts that work normally. Dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart), heart valve disease and some types of congenital heart defects also raise the risk of stroke.

Certain blood disorders
A high red blood cell count makes blood clots more likely, increasing the risk of stroke. Doctors may treat this problem by removing blood cells or prescribing “blood thinners.”

Sickle cell anemia
Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disorder that mainly affects African-American and Hispanic children. “Sickled” red blood cells are less able to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs. They also tend to stick to blood vessel walls, which can block arteries to the brain and cause a stroke.

High blood cholesterol
A high level of total cholesterol in the blood (240 mg/dL or higher) is a major risk factor for heart disease, which raises your risk of stroke. Recent studies show that high levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol (greater than 100 mg/dL) and triglycerides (blood fats) directly increase the risk of stroke in people with prior coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA). Low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol (less than 40 mg/dL) also may raise stroke risk.

Physical inactivity and obesity
Being inactive, obese or both can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. So go on a brisk walk, take the stairs, and do whatever you can to make your life more active for a total of at least 30 minutes on most days.

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

Illegal drug use
Intravenous drug abuse carries a high risk of stroke. Cocaine use has been linked to strokes and heart attacks. Some have been fatal even in first-time users.

These are the risk factors that you cannot modify or change:African American man standing with his bicycle.

  • Increasing age - Stroke happens to people of all ages, including children. But the older you are, the greater your risk for stroke.

  • Gender

  • Stroke is more common in men than in women.
    In most age groups, more men than women will have a stroke in a given year. However, more than half of total stroke deaths occur in women. Women who are pregnant have a higher stroke risk. So do women taking birth control pills who also smoke or have high blood pressure or other risk factors.
  • Heredity and race - Your stroke risk is greater if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke. African Americans have a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians do. In part, this is because blacks have higher risks of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
  • Prior stroke - Someone who has had a stroke is at a much higher risk of having another one. If you have had a stroke, it is even more important to make healthy lifestyle changes and modify your controllable risk factors (with your doctor’s help). If you have had a heart attack, you are at a higher risk of also having a stroke.

For more information call our program coordinator at 414-585-1218.



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