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Reduce Your Risk of Stroke

stroke montageAnyone can have a stroke no matter your age, race or gender. However, the chances of having a stroke increase if a person has certain risk factors or criteria that can cause a stroke. The good news is that up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented, and the best way to protect yourself from stroke is to understand the risks and how to manage them.

Controllable Factors

Stroke risk factors that we can modify or treat include:

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): High blood pressure means the heart is pumping harder to move blood through the body. This can weaken blood vessels and damage major organs, such as the brain. Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to stroke. High blood pressure (140/90 mm Hg or higher) is the most important risk factor for stroke.

Tobacco use: Smoking doubles the risk for stroke when compared to a non-smoker. It reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood, causing the heart to work harder and allowing blood clots to form more easily. Smoking also increases the amount of build-up in the arteries, which may block the flow of blood to the brain, causing a stroke.

Diabetes: Diabetes seriously increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Even when blood sugar (glucose) levels are under control, diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, but the risks are even greater if blood sugar is not well controlled.

High Blood Cholesterol: As blood cholesterol rises, the risk of stroke also increases. A blood cholesterol level of 240 mg/dL or higher can promote buildup of plaque inside blood vessels. This narrows the blood vessels and they are more likely to become blocked.

Heart disease: Coronary heart disease and heart failure more than doubles the risk for stroke.

Lack of physical activity: An inactive lifestyle is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity helps prevent heart and blood vessel diseases. Exercise can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity, as well as help lower blood pressure in some people.

Obesity: People who have excess body fat are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. Excess weight makes the heart work harder. It raises blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and triglyceride (tri-GLIS'er-ide) levels. It also lowers HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. Being just 20 pounds overweight significantly increases your risk of stroke and heart disease.  

Unhealthy Eating (eating a high fat, high salt, or high sugar diet): As part of an effort to maintain a healthy weight, good nutrition is an important component.  It can also be one of the best weapons to prevent a stroke. The food you eat (and the amount) can affect other controllable risk factors: cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and overweight. Choose nutrient-rich foods — which have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients but are lower in calories — over nutrient-poor foods. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole-grain and high-fiber foods, fish, lean protein and fat-free or low-fat dairy products is the key. And to maintain a healthy weight, coordinate your diet with your physical activity level so you're using up as many calories as you consume.

Extreme alcohol use:  Drinking an average of more than one drink a day for women or more than two drinks a day for men can raise blood pressure and may increase risk for stroke.

Uncontrollable Factors

Unfortunately, there are a few risk factors that we cannot change.

Factors that are uncontrollable include:

Age: The chance of having a stroke more than doubles every 10 years after age 55.

Gender: Hormonal changes with pregnancy, giving birth and menopause are also linked to an increased risk of stroke for women. 

Race: African Americans are twice as likely to die from stroke as Caucasians. The rate of first strokes in African Americans is almost double that of Caucasians, and strokes tend to occur earlier in life for African Americans than Caucasians.

Family history:  Stroke risks are higher in people who have a family or personal history of stroke.

Page Updated: 7/19/2017