May is American Stroke month. If you
think you aren’t at risk of having a stroke because you are in your 20’s
or 30’s you are wrong. The following lists are taken from the American
Stroke Association’s website. Some of the risk factors can’t be
changed but many of them can be changed or treated.
What risk factors for stroke can’t be changed?
Age — The chance of having a stroke approximately
doubles for each decade of life after age 55. While stroke is common
among the elderly, a lot of people under 65 also have strokes.
Heredity (family history) — Your stroke risk may be
greater if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke.
Some strokes may be symptoms 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% chance of inheriting the disease.
Visit the NINDS website (opens in new window) or read the AHA/ASA
scientific statement (opens in new window) on this topic for more
details about CADASIL.
Race — African-Americans (opens in new window) have
a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians do. This is
partly because blacks have higher risks of high blood pressure, diabetes
Sex (gender) — Each year, women have more strokes
than men, and stroke kills more women than men. Use of birth control
pills, 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 a stroke than someone of the same
age and sex who hasn’t. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce your
risk of a major stroke. TIA should be considered a medical emergency and
followed up immediately with a healthcare professional. If you’ve had a
heart attack, you’re at higher risk of having a stroke, too.
What stroke risk factors can be changed, treated or controlled?
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
Cigarette smoking — In recent years, studies have
shown cigarette smoking to be an important risk factor for stroke. The
nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke damage the
cardiovascular system in many ways. The use of oral contraceptives
combined with cigarette smoking greatly increases stroke risk.
Diabetes mellitus — Diabetes is an independent risk
factor for stroke. Many people with diabetes also have high blood
pressure, high blood cholesterol and are overweight. This increases
their risk even more. While diabetes is treatable, the presence of the
disease still increases your risk of stroke.
Carotid or other artery disease — The carotid
arteries in your neck supply blood to your brain. A carotid artery
narrowed by fatty deposits from atherosclerosis (plaque buildups in
artery walls) may become blocked by a blood clot. Carotid artery disease
is also called carotid artery stenosis.
Peripheral artery disease is the narrowing of blood
vessels carrying blood to leg and arm muscles. It’s caused by fatty
buildups of plaque in artery walls. People with peripheral artery
disease have a higher risk of carotid artery disease, which raises their
risk of stroke.
Atrial fibrillation — This heart rhythm disorder
raises the risk for stroke. The heart’s upper chambers quiver instead of
beating effectively, which can let the blood 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
hearts that work normally. Dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart),
heart valve disease and some types of congenital heart defects also
raise the risk of stroke.
Sickle cell disease (also called sickle cell anemia) —
This is a genetic disorder that 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
High blood cholesterol — People with high blood
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.
Poor diet — 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
(PDF opens in new window).
Physical inactivity and obesity — Being inactive,
obese 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 make your life more
active. Try to get a total of at least 30 minutes of activity on most or