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Risk Factors for Stroke

Stroke can happen to anyone, but your chances of having a stroke are much higher if you have certain conditions or personal risk factors.

Stroke Risks From Medical Conditions or Lifestyle

Many stroke risks can be controlled or treated. These include:

  • Smoking – Current smokers have two to four times higher stroke risk than nonsmokers.
  • High Blood Pressure – Uncontrolled high blood pressure makes stroke much more likely. In people having first stroke, 77 percent have blood pressure higher than 140/90.
  • Obesity – Stroke risk rises as weight increases.
  • High Cholesterol – High total cholesterol causes clogged arteries, a stroke risk.
  • Diabetes – Type 2 diabetes has higher risk of stroke.
  • Carotid artery disease – May form stroke-producing clot.
  • Atrial fibrillation – Erratic heart rhythm can create clot, causes a stroke. 
  • Sleep apnea – Increases stroke risk two to four times; also common after stroke. Alcohol or drug abuse – Both can lead to stroke.
  • Lack of exercise – Inactivity leads to stroke-related conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Other Stroke Risks

Other stroke risks cannot be controlled or treated. These include:

  • Age – Risk increases as you get older: in ages 55 to 75, one in five women and one in six men experience stroke.
  • Gender – More men have strokes, yet 60 percent of stroke deaths are in women. Taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy may increase risk. Stroke increases during and shortly after pregnancy, possibly due to high blood pressure.
  • Race – African-Americans have higher risks of stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Sickle cell disease is chief cause of stroke in black children.
  • Family history of stroke – Your risk is higher if a close blood relative (parents, sister, brother, grandparents) had a stroke.
  • Previous stroke, heart attack or TIA – Stroke risk increases after first stroke or heart attack. TIA (transient ischemic attack) or “warning stroke” produces stroke symptoms without damage, needs immediate medical follow-up. About 15 percent of strokes have TIA before.

Recognize the Signs of a Stroke: F.A.S.T.

F.A.S.T. is a quick and easy way to recognize the signs of stroke, from The American Stroke Association. Remember to think F.A.S.T. if you or someone else experiences:

F – Face drooping – Ask the person to smile to see if one side of the face is drooping or numb

A – Arm weakness – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift down?

S – Speech difficulty – Is speech slurred? Can the person repeat a simple sentence correctly and clearly?

T – Time to call 911 if you see any of these signs, even if the symptoms go away – The person needs to go to the hospital immediately.

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