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Stroke risk factors

  • Risk factors increase your chance of having a stroke. There are two types of risk factors: those you cannot control and those you can.

    Stroke risks you cannot control

    The following risk factors are those you cannot control:

    • Age: Your chance of having a stroke increases with your age. However, recent studies indicate an increase in stroke in the young —those under 65.
    • Gender: Women have more strokes than men, and die of stroke more often than men.
    • Race and ethnicity: Blacks, American Indians and Hispanics have a higher risk of stroke than whites.
    • Family history (genetics): A history of heart disease or stroke can increase your risk.
    • History of stroke/transient ischemic attack (TIA): If you have already had a stroke or TIA, you are at greater risk of having another stroke.

    You're not too young to have a stroke

    Middle-age man

    Eighty percent of strokes are preventable.

    Learn what risk factors you can control, then take steps to lower your odds of stroke.

    Stroke risks you can control

    The following risk factors are those you can control:

    • High blood pressure: High blood pressure puts stress on your blood vessel walls. This can lead to stroke from blood clots or bleeding. Blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg or higher is considered high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, have your blood pressure checked every year and follow your doctor's treatment plan. 
    • Atrial fibrillation: Atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) causes your heart to beat too quickly and out of rhythm. Blood can pool in your heart and form clots. If you have atrial fibrillation, follow your doctor's treatment plan.
    • Carotid artery disease: Your carotid arteries carry blood to your brain. When plaque (a fatty substance) builds up in these neck arteries, it increases the stroke risk. If you have carotid artery disease, your doctor may suggest surgery, a stent or other treatment plan.
    • High cholesterol: When plaque (a fatty substance) builds up in your artery walls, blood can't travel to your heart.
      • When too much LDL builds up on your artery walls, plaque forms and blocks blood flow in your vessels leading to your heart, legs and brain. This can cause heart disease, peripheral artery disease and strokes. 
      • HDL helps to get rid of extra cholesterol from your blood and tissue. This may prevent or reverse blood vessel problems by taking the cholesterol from the plaque.

      Keep your total cholesterol to less than 200 mg/dL. (If you have high cholesterol, follow your doctor's treatment plan.)

      • Diabetes: People who have diabetes are at increased risk for heart disease and stroke. (If you have diabetes, follow your doctor's treatment plan. If you have prediabetes, talk to your doctor about how you can lower your risk for developing diabetes.)
      • Smoking: Tobacco use damages blood vessel walls, clogs arteries, raises blood pressure and makes your heart work harder. If you smoke, quit. After five years, your stroke risk is the same as someone who has never smoked. Ask your doctor for information about quitting smoking.
      • Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure, cause heart failure and lead to stroke. Do not drink excessively. Ask your doctor for help if necessary.
      • Extra weight: Carrying extra weight strains your circulatory system. It also makes you more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. If you need to lose weight, talk with your doctor about a nutrition and exercise plan.
      • Physical inactivity: Lack of exercise increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. If you do not have a regular exercise routine, talk with your doctor before you start one.

      Learn more about stroke risks.

  • Stroke signs and symptoms

    Signs and symptoms of stroke may last a short time and disappear. Don't delay in getting help. A stroke is a medical emergency.

    If you have any of the following, call 911 right away:

    • weakness: sudden or temporary weakness, numbness or paralysis in an arm, hand, leg or facial muscles, usually on one side of the body
    • vision problems: sudden blurred double vision or dimness in one or both eyes
    • confusion: sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding language, or thinking
    • loss of balance: sudden clumsiness, loss of balance or dizziness
    • headache: sudden severe headache (the worst headache of your life)