Risk Factors

Some risk factors you can control; others you can't. By having regular medical checkups and knowing your risk, you can focus on what you can change to lower your risk of stroke.

Risk factors that can be changed or treated:

  • High blood pressure. This is the most important risk factor because it's the number one cause of stroke. Have your blood pressure checked regularly and if it's consistently high (above 140/90), talk to your doctor about how to control it.
  • Tobacco use. Don't smoke cigarettes or other forms of tobacco, because smoking damages blood vessels.
  • Diabetes mellitus. Work with your doctor to manage diabetes, because it causes disease of blood vessels in the brain, increasing your chance of stroke.
  • Carotid or other artery disease. The carotid arteries in your neck supply most of the blood to your brain, so a carotid artery damaged by a fatty buildup of plaque inside the artery wall may become blocked by a blood clot, causing a stroke.
  • TIAs. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are "mini strokes" that produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting effects. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce the risk of a major stroke.
  • Atrial fibrillation and other heart disease. Atrial fibrillation means the heart's upper chambers quiver rather than beat effectively, causing blood to pool and clot, which increases the risk of stroke. In general, people with other types of heart disease have a higher risk of stroke.
  • Certain blood disorders. A high red blood cell count makes clots more likely, increasing the risk of stroke. Sickle cell anemia increases stroke risk because the "sickled" cells stick to blood vessel walls and may block arteries.
  • High blood cholesterol. High blood cholesterol increases the risk of clogged arteries. If an artery leading to the brain becomes blocked, a stroke can result.
  • Physical inactivity and obesity. Being inactive and/or obese can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Excessive alcohol. Drinking an average of more than one drink per day for women or more than two drinks a day for men raises blood pressure, which is the number one cause of stroke. Binge drinking can lead to stroke.
  • Illegal drug use. Intravenous drug use carries a high risk of stroke. Cocaine use has also been linked to stroke.

Risk factors that can't be controlled.

  • Increasing age. The older you are, the greater your stroke risk.
  • Gender. In most age groups, more men than women have stroke, however more women than men die from stroke.
  • Heredity and race. People with stroke in their family have a higher risk of stroke. Blacks have a higher risk of death and disability from stroke than whites, because they have high blood pressure more often. Hispanics are also at higher risk.
  • Prior stroke. Someone who has had a stroke is at higher risk of having another one.