According to the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, 80 percent of strokes are preventable. That means that even though there are uncontrollable risk factors like family history and age, proper diet and lifestyle can greatly reduce risk.
Assess your personal risk with the Stroke Risk Scorecard. Stroke Risk Scorecard
Uncontrollable Risk Factors
The chance of having a stroke nearly doubles for each decade of life after age 55. While stroke is common among the elderly, a large number of people under age 65 also suffer strokes.
Your stroke risk may be greater if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke. Some strokes may be symptomatic of genetic disorders like CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with sub-cortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy), which is caused by a gene mutation that leads to damage of blood vessel walls in the brain, blocking blood flow. Most individuals with CADASIL have a family history of the disorder — each child of a CADASIL parent has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disease. Visit the NINDS
website or read the AHA/ASA scientific statement on this topic for more details about CADASIL.
African-Americans are at greater risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, and therefore at a higher risk of suffering a stroke.
Each year, women suffer more strokes than men, and stroke kills more women than men. Pregnancy, history of preeclampsia/eclampsia or gestational diabetes, oral contraceptive use, and smoking, and post-menopausal hormone therapy may pose special stroke risks for women. Be sure to discuss your specific risks with your doctor.
Prior stroke, TIA or Heart Attack
The risk of stroke for someone who has already had one is many times that of a person who has not. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are "warning strokes" that produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. TIAs are strong predictors of stroke. A person who's had one or more TIAs is almost 10 times more likely to have suffer a stroke than someone of the same age and gender who hasn't. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce your risk of a major stroke. TIAs should be considered a medical emergency and followed up immediately with a healthcare professional.
Controllable Risk Factors
High blood pressure
High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and the most important controllable risk factor for stroke. Many people believe the effective treatment of high blood pressure is a key reason for the accelerated decline in the death rates for stroke.
In recent years, studies have shown cigarette smoking to be an important risk factor for stroke, as the nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke damage the cardiovascular system. The use of oral contraceptives combined with cigarette smoking greatly increases stroke risk. Visit Renown Health's Quit Tobacco Program for additional help
Diabetes is an independent risk factor for stroke. Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and are overweight, which increases their risk even more. While diabetes is treatable, the presence of the disease still increases risk of stroke.
Carotid or other artery disease
Carotid artery disease/stenosis is a condition in which the carotid arteries supplying blood to the brain are narrowed by fatty deposits from atherosclerosis (plaque buildup from artery walls). A stroke can occur if a blood clot blocks an already-clogged artery.
Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease is caused by fatty buildups of plaque in the artery walls, which in turn narrow the vessels carrying blood to leg and arm muscles. People with peripheral artery disease have a higher risk of carotid artery disease, raising their risk of stroke.
Atrial fibrillation is a heart rhythm disorder wherein the heart's upper chambers quiver instead of beating effectively, which causes the blood to pool and clot. If a clot breaks off, enters the bloodstream and lodges in an artery leading to the brain, a stroke results.
Other heart disease
People with coronary heart disease or heart failure have a higher risk of stroke than those with normal, healthy hearts. Dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart), heart valve disease and some types of congenital heart defects also raise the risk of stroke.
Sickle cell disease/anemia
This genetic disorder mainly affects African-American and Hispanic children. "Sickled" red blood cells are less able to carry oxygen to the body's tissues and organs. These cells also tend to stick to blood vessel walls, which can block arteries to the brain and cause a stroke.
People with high cholesterol have an increased risk for stroke. Also, it appears that low HDL (“good”) cholesterol is a risk factor for stroke in men, but more data are needed to verify its effect in women.
Diets high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels. Diets high in sodium (salt) can contribute to increased blood pressure. Diets with excess calories can contribute to obesity. Also, a diet containing five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day may reduce the risk of stroke.
Physical inactivity and obesity
Inactivity, obesity or both can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. So go on a brisk walk, take the stairs, and do whatever you can to be more active. Try to get at least 30 minutes of activity every day of the week.