Some stroke risk factors are controllable.
Meaning, you have the power to reduce those risks.
Other stroke risk factors, however, are inherent, and you can’t change them.
The good news is that you can avoid a stroke even if you have some inherent stroke risk factors by managing the controllable ones.
Let’s dig into the list of the top 13 stroke risk factors.
Part 1: Inherent Stroke Risk Factors That You Can’t Change
So, what causes a stroke anyway?
A stroke is caused when an artery in the brain either becomes clogged by a clot or bursts and ruptures.
Anything that affects the health of your arteries is immediately a stroke risk factor.
Some stroke risk factors are beyond your control. These are called inherent risk factors, and we will discuss them below.
1. Prior Stroke or TIA
Have you already had a stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack)?
Stroke survivors are at a higher risk of stroke than individuals who haven’t had one.
And those who’ve experienced a TIA, the ‘warning stroke,’ are 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and gender who hasn’t experienced one.
Transient ischemic attacks are to be taken very seriously and treated as a medical emergency.
2. Heart Attack
A heart attack is caused when one of the arteries in your heart becomes blocked.
Blocked blood vessels can be lethal, and when an artery in your brain becomes blocked, that’s what causes a stroke.
According to this study, your risk of a stroke increases 44-fold for the first month after a heart attack.
So taking preventative measures during that month is crucial. Then, your risk remains at 2 to 3-fold for the next 3 years.
So making healthy lifestyle changes after experiencing a heart attack can help protect you from experiencing a stroke.
This risk factor is one we’re simply born with.
Unfortunately, your risk of stroke might be greater if a parent, grandparent, or sibling has had a stroke.
There are also genetic disorders that can increase your risk of stroke, like CADASIL.
CADASIL (Cerebral Autosomal Dominant Arteriopathy with Sub-cortical Infarcts) is a gene mutation that leads to damaged blood vessel walls to the arteries in the brain, blocking blood flow.
If one of your parents has CADASIL, you have a 50% chance of inheriting the disease, so knowing your hereditary risks is important.
As we get older, our risk for medical conditions increases.
The statistic is that your risk of stroke doubles for each decade of life past the age of 55.
However, while stroke occurs more commonly among the elderly, young people can still have strokes too.
In fact, age is one of the most common misconceptions about stroke.
So don’t disregard other risks just because you still have your youth, please.
Unfortunately, women have a higher risk of stroke than men.
This difference is due to pregnancy, oral contraceptives, and post-menopausal hormone therapy, among other girly things.
Since women have more strokes than men each year, it’s important to discuss your specific risks with your doctor.
We know, this list is rather dreary. But knowing your risk factors is an important first step towards stroke prevention.
And if you’re a stroke survivor, it’s even more imperative to know and manage your risks.
Part 2: Controllable Stroke Risk Factors that You Can Manage
Overall, there are 8 stroke risk factors that you can actively manage.
Again, if you meet any of the criteria above, you can still help reduce your risk of stroke by managing these controllable stroke risk factors:
6. High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke, meaning it’s of the most important risk factor to manage.
To lower your blood pressure, try to avoid salty foods and reduce excessive stress.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Learn more tips on how to manage blood pressure here.
7. Cigarette Smoking
We already know that smoking is bad, but how far does ‘bad’ go?
Well, smoking increases clot formation, thickens blood, and increases the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries.
After all that, it’s no wonder that smoking doubles your risk of stroke.
The presence of this chronic disease increases your risk of stroke as well as risk of death after stroke.
Also, diabetes is usually accompanied by high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and obesity – all factors that increase your risk of stroke.
9. Atrial Fibrillation
This heart rhythm disorder causes the heart’s upper chambers to quiver instead of beat effectively, potentially leading to clot-formation.
If a clot forms and travels through your arteries to the brain, it can completely block the blood supply and cause a stroke.
Luckily, AFib can be treated with medication and/or surgery.
Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup from fatty deposits.
Atherosclerosis dramatically increases your risk of stroke and these other stroke risk factors:
Coronary Heart Disease (atherosclerosis of the heart) occurs when the arteries leading to the heart become hardened by plaque. This disease is the #1 killer in the United States.
Carotid Artery Disease (atherosclerosis of the neck) occurs when the major arteries in your neck, the ones that supply blood to your brain, become narrowed by plaque.
Peripheral Artery Disease (atherosclerosis of the limbs) occurs when the blood vessels supplying the arms and legs become narrowed by plaque buildup and therefore increase your risk of stroke.
11. High Blood Cholesterol
So make sure you’re taking the right steps to reduce high cholesterol, like avoiding saturated fats and eating healthy stroke-preventive foods.
12. Central Obesity
Obesity means having a Body Mass Index greater than 30, and central obesity means carrying that extra weight specifically around your abdominal.
Managing obesity can help reduce your risk of many chronic diseases, including stroke.
This is actually the cause of controversy over the ketogenic diet for stroke patients. The diet encourages high-fat consumption, which can worsen obesity and cholesterol, two of the leading causes of stroke.
That’s why it’s best to follow a balanced diet for stroke patients that encourages the consumption of healthy foods and limits unhealthy ones.
It’s simple, but it can dramatically reduce your risk of stroke when followed appropriately.
13. Physical Inactivity
We’ll end this list with a call to action:
Getting the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity a day can reduce your risk of stroke and improve your mental outlook on life!
So get up and get moving, even if it’s just a walk – all physical activity counts!
And there you have it! By knowing your risks, you’ve already taken the first step towards a healthier future.