Risk Factors for Stroke

Strokes occur in all age groups, in both sexes and in all races in every country. A stroke can even occur before birth, when the fetus is still in the womb. Certain people are at a higher risk of having a stroke than others based on factors they cannot change. These risk factors include:

  • Age: Advancing age is the primary risk factor for stroke. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65, and the risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55.
  • Gender: The stroke risk for men is slightly higher than that for women, but more women die from stroke because, in general, women have strokes at older ages.
  • Heritage: African Americans are twice as likely to die from stroke as any other racial or ethnic group. Hispanics age 35-64 are 1.3 times more likely to have a stroke than their white counterparts.

Reduce your risk factors

Having a risk factor for stroke doesn't mean you'll have a stroke and not having a risk factor doesn't mean you'll avoid a stroke, but your risk of stroke grows as the number and severity of risk factors increases. Take charge of your health and work toward changing the treatable risk factors that you can, such as

High blood pressure

Also called hypertension, this is by far the most potent risk factor for stroke. If your blood pressure is high, you and your doctor need to work out an individual strategy to bring it down to the normal range. Some ways that work: maintain proper weight, avoid drugs known to raise blood pressure, cut down on salt, eat fruits and vegetables to increase potassium in your diet and exercise more. Your doctor may prescribe medicines that help lower blood pressure. Controlling blood pressure will also help you avoid heart disease, diabetes, and kidney failure.

Cigarette smoking

Cigarette smoking has been linked to the buildup of fatty substances in the carotid artery, which is the main neck artery supplying blood to the brain. Blockage of this artery is the leading cause of stroke in Americans. Also, nicotine raises blood pressure, carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen your blood can carry to the brain and cigarette smoke makes your blood thicker and more likely to clot. Your doctor can recommend programs and medications that may help you quit smoking. By quitting at any age, you also reduce your risk of lung disease, heart disease and a number of cancers.

Heart disease

Common heart disorders such as coronary artery disease, valve defects, irregular heartbeat and enlargement of one of the heart's chambers can result in blood clots that may break loose and block vessels in or leading to the brain. Your doctor will treat your heart disease and may also prescribe medication, such as aspirin, to help prevent the formation of clots.

History of stroke

If you experience any warning signs or a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack, also known as a "mini-stroke"), get help at once. If you have had a stroke in the past, it's important to reduce your risk of a second stroke. Your brain helps you recover from a stroke by drawing on body systems that now do double duty. That means a second stroke can be twice as bad.


You may think this disorder affects only the body's ability to use sugar, or glucose, but it also causes destructive changes in the blood vessels throughout the body, including the brain. Also, if blood glucose levels are high at the time of a stroke, then brain damage is usually more severe and extensive than when blood glucose is well-controlled. Treating diabetes can delay the onset of complications that increase the risk of stroke.

Reducing your risk factors for stroke will also improve your general health. Why not get started today?

For more information about stroke risks and prevention, please call 304.526.6317.

Sources: www.nih.gov and www.cdc.gov