Knowing your risk factors can reduce the chance of a stroke. Some factors, such as age or family history, can’t be changed. But there are many things you can do to help lower your risk. It is important to remember that regular medical check-ups are the best protection against a stroke.
Risk factors you can’t change
- Family history: The risk of a stroke is greater for people who have a family history of stroke.
- Aging: As you get older and a disease called atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) begins to clog your blood vessels, your risk of stroke and other vascular diseases increases.
- Gender: Women have a greater risk of having a stroke and account for more than half of all stroke deaths. This is because, statistically, women live longer.
- Race: African-Americans have a greater risk of death and disability from stroke than Caucasians. This is partly because African- Americans have higher risks of diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Prior stroke: Someone who has had a stroke is at higher risk of having another stroke.
Risk factors you can change
- Previous episode of stroke or TIA: If you have had a stroke or a transient ischemic attack ( TIA), you should talk to your health care provider to see if you are a candidate for surgery or medication. Occasionally, surgery is necessary to remove blockages in the major arteries of the neck (carotid arteries). Medications that may help reduce the risk of stroke include aspirin or other drugs that help prevent clots. Taking these medications daily can help reduce the risk of a stroke.
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure (hypertension) is the most important risk factor for stroke. Stroke risk varies directly with blood pressure. If your blood pressure is controlled, then your risk of a stroke is greatly reduced. The higher your blood pressure, the greater your risk. A blood pressure of 120 over 80 is considered normal, whereas pre-hypertension (pre-high blood pressure) is 120 – 130 over 80 – 89. Any number greater than 130 over 89 is considered high blood pressure.
- High blood cholesterol: Cholesterol can speed the process of clogging your blood vessels. This can lead to a stroke and heart attack. There are two types of cholesterol: LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins) is sometimes called “bad cholesterol.” HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins) is known as “good cholesterol.” People with total cholesterol levels below 180-200mg/dl have the lowest risk.
- Diabetes (high blood sugar): People with diabetes are more likely to suffer a stroke. This is even more true for women with diabetes than for men. High blood sugar levels can cause increased blood cholesterol levels and increased clogging of the blood vessels.
Other risk factors
- Carotid artery disease: A condition in which the carotid arteries-the main blood vessels to the brain-develop buildup of plaque which limits blood flow. When the buildup becomes severe a stroke can occur. Treatment consists of lifestyle modification, medications and/or surgical procedures such as carotid endarterectomy or carotid stenting. Your doctor will review the best options with you.
- Atrial fibrillation: An irregular heart rhythm of the atria (upper chambers in the heart) where a blood clot can develop and then travel to an artery in the brain and cause blockage.
- Physical inactivity and obesity.
- Birth-control pills.
- Excessive alcohol intake.