Risk Factors & Prevention
Eighty percent of strokes can be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices and treatment of risk factors. Stroke is preventable and treatable. In fact, a vital component of our stroke program is a coordinated, multi-disciplinary rapid-response system of care for the treatment of a stroke victim and their family. Stroke is sudden and a 911 emergency because the treatment you receive in the first few moments and the first hours of a stroke can save your life and help reduce debilitating effects.
Understanding the factors that increase your risk of a stroke and recognizing the symptoms may help you prevent a stroke. Although they are more common in older adults, strokes can occur at any age.
Controllable or treatable risk factors for stroke include:
- High blood pressure (uncontrolled) - Blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg or higher is the most important risk factor for stroke. It usually has no specific symptoms and no early warning signs. That's why it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Controlling your blood pressure is crucial to stroke prevention.
- Smoking- Decrease your risk by quitting smoking. Your risk may be increased further if you use some forms of oral contraceptives and are a smoker. There is recent evidence that long-term secondhand smoke exposure may increase your risk of stroke.
- Know your numbers - It is crucial to control your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body mass index. All of these can contribute to your risk of stroke. See your physician for a complete physical.
- 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 arteries are treated by neurosurgeons through a procedure in which an incision is made in the neck and plaque is removed from the artery.
- History of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs ) - About 30 percent of stroke patients have a history of TIAs. Common temporary symptoms include difficulty speaking or understanding others, loss or blurring of vision in one eye, and loss of strength or numbness in an arm or leg. Usually these symptoms resolve in less than 10 to 20 minutes, and almost always within one hour. Even if all the symptoms resolve, it is very important that anyone experiencing these symptoms call 911 and immediately be evaluated by a qualified physician.
- Diabetes - It is crucial to control your blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Diabetes, especially when untreated, puts you at greater risk of stroke and has many other serious health implications.
- High blood cholesterol - A high level of total cholesterol in the blood (240 mg/dL or higher) is a major risk factor for heart disease, which raises your risk of stroke. You can often improve your cholesterol levels by decreasing the salt and saturated fat in your diet. However, some people inherit genes associated with elevated levels of cholesterol. Although they may eat well and exercise, they still may have high cholesterol, and must take medication to control it.
- 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. Getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five days a week can help reduce your risk of stroke. Check with your doctor first before starting any exercise program if you have any health problems or have been inactive. Recent research shows evidence that people receiving hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have an overall 29 percent increased risk of stroke, in particular ischemic stroke.
Uncontrollable risk factors include:
- Age - People of all ages, including children, have strokes. But the older you are, the greater your risk of stroke.
- Gender - Stroke is more common in men than in women. However, women account for more than half of all stroke deaths. Women who are pregnant have a higher stroke risk. Some research has indicated that women may experience and interpret stroke symptoms differently than men, causing them to delay seeking medical care, and contributing to their higher stroke mortality rates.
- Heredity and race - You have a greater risk of stroke if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke. African Americans have a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians do, partly because they may be more prone to having high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
- Prior stroke or heart attack - If you have had a stroke, you are at much higher risk of having another one. If you have had a heart attack, you are also at higher risk of having a stroke.
Take the Stroke Risk Assessment. (To start the assessment, click on the Continue button at the bottom of the Assess Your Health - Stroke Risk page.)