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Stroke risk factors

  • A stroke happens when blood and oxygen flow to the brain is stopped or interrupted due to a ruptured or blocked blood vessel. This can cause damage to the brain.

    Signs and symptoms of stroke

    Signs and symptoms may last a short time and disappear. Do not delay in getting help. A stroke is a medical emergency. Call 911 if you have any of the signs or symptoms.

    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

    According to the American Stroke Association, the following risk factors are those you cannot control:

    • Race: Blacks, Latinos and Asians are at higher risk for stroke than Caucasians.
    • Age: A stroke can happen to anyone. It is more common in adults older than age 55.
    • Gender: Women have more strokes than men, and die of stroke more often than men.
    • Family history (genetics): A history of heart disease or stroke can increase your risk.
    • 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

    According to the American Stroke Association, 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 130 to 139 or higher (top number) or 80 to 89 or higher (bottom number) is high blood pressure. (Follow your doctor’s treatment plan if you have high blood pressure.)
    • tobacco use: Tobacco use doubles your stroke risk. It damages blood vessel walls, lowers the level of oxygen in your blood, makes plaque form more quickly in your arteries, raises your blood pressure and makes your heart work harder. (Quit if you use tobacco.) 
    • Atrial fibrillation(irregular heartbeat): This causes your heart to beat too quickly and out of rhythm. Blood can pool in your heart and form clots. These blood clots can travel through your bloodstream to your brain. (Follow your doctor’s treatment plan if you have atrial fibrillation.)
    • Heart disease: There are many types of heart disease, including heart failure and heart valve disease. Heart disease increases your risk for stroke. (If you have heart disease, your doctor may suggest surgery, a stent, or other treatment plan.)
    • High cholesterol: Cholesterol is a fat-like substance made by your liver and found in the food you eat. Low density lipoprotein cholesterol is also called LDL (the “bad” cholesterol). When too much LDL builds up on your artery walls, plaque forms and blocks blood flow in vessels. Higher levels of LDL may increase your risk of stroke and heart disease. High density lipoprotein cholesterol is also called HDL (the “good” cholesterol). HDL helps to get rid of extra cholesterol from your blood. Higher levels of HDL may decrease your risk of stroke and heart disease. (Follow your doctor’s treatment plan if you have high cholesterol.) Triglycerides are a type of fat in your bloodstream. High levels of triglycerides can increase your risk of stroke and heart disease.
    • Food: Eating foods high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can make your blood cholesterol levels go up. Eating foods high in sodium (salt) can raise your blood pressure. Eating foods high in calories can make you gain weight. Cut down on saturated fats, trans fats, salt and foods high in cholesterol. Eat at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables each day.
    • Street drugs: Using street drugs changes your blood pressure and increases your risk for another stroke. (If you use street drugs, quit. Ask your doctor how to quit.)
    • Physical inactivity: Lack of exercise increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. (Talk with your doctor before you start a regular exercise routine.)
    • Carotid artery disease: When plaque builds up in your neck arteries, you are at risk for an ischemic stroke. (Follow your doctor’s treatment plan if you have carotid artery disease.)
    • Peripheral artery disease (PAD): Cholesterol and plaque build up on your blood vessel walls and cause your blood vessels to narrow. This may reduce blood flow. (Follow your doctor’s treatment plan if you have PAD.)
    • Diabetes: Having diabetes increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. (Follow your doctor’s treatment plan if you have diabetes.)
    • Alcohol use: Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure, cause heart failure and lead to stroke. (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. (Talk with your doctor if you need to lose weight.)

    Learn more about stroke risks.

    What to do after a stroke

    If you had a stroke, it is important that you follow your health care team’s directions for medicines, healthful diet, exercise, and controlling risk factors. Keep all appointments with health care providers.

    Ask your doctor if you have questions or concerns about your health.

  • 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)