HEART DISEASE AND STROKE PREVENTION PROGRAM  
STROKE: RISK FACTORS
Woman

Am I at risk for a stroke? Everyone has some risk for stroke. A few stroke risk factors are beyond your control but many risk factors are preventable or can be controlled.

 
   
 

Clinical and statistical studies have identified several factors that increase a person’s risk of having a stroke. Major risk factors are those that research has shown significantly increase the risk of stroke. Other factors are associated with increased risk of stroke, but their significance and prevalence haven't yet been precisely determined. They're called contributing risk factors.

Use My Life Check from the American Heart Association to assess your heart health and determine what you can do to lower your risk.

   
  Risk factors you cannot change
  • Increasing age: People over age 55 are at greater risk of stroke.
  • Gender: More men than women have strokes in certain age groups, but more women actually die from stroke.
  • Race: African-Americans and Hispanics have a higher risk of death and disability from stroke.
  • Heredity: A family history of stroke can increase your risk. Use the Family Health History Toolkit assess your family health history.
  • Previous Stroke: History of a previous stroke may increase stroke risk by up to 10 times.
  • Previous episode of Transient Ischemic Attack or TIA ("mini-stroke").
  • Heart Disease
  • Atrial Fibrillation: An abnormal heart rate or rhythm. This type of irregular heartbeat occurs in 15 percent of all strokes. Learn more about atrial fibrillation and what you can do to decrease your risk.
  • Carotid Artery Disease: The narrowing or blocking of the carotid arteries by cholesterol called plaque. Carotid Artery Disease puts you at an increased risk for stroke because a piece of the plaque can break free and travel to the brain where it blocks a vessel in the brain.  
 
Risk factors you can change:
   
High Blood Cholesterol:
Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance in your body. Cholesterol comes only from animal products or animal by-products such as beef, chicken, eggs, milk, etc. A high level of cholesterol in the blood (240 mg/dL or higher) is a major risk factor for heart attack and also increases your risk of having a stroke. High levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. People with a low level of HDL cholesterol (<40 mg/dL) have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. A high LDL level, more than 160 mg/dL (130 mg/dL or above if you have two or more risk factors for heart disease), reflects an increased risk of stroke. That's why LDL cholesterol is often called "bad" cholesterol. Learn more about cholesterol.
Back to Top
 
 
High Blood Pressure (hypertension):
High blood pressure causes the heart to work harder, putting you at an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney, and eye problems. There are no symptoms to identify high blood pressure and therefore many people are unaware that they have it. The only way to detect high blood pressure is to have it checked regularly.
 
Diastolic
less than 80
80 - 89
90 - 99
100 or greater
Learn more about blood pressure.
Back to Top
Smoking:
Quitting smoking lowers a person's risk of stroke greatly, even after many years of smoking. Learn more about the impact of smoking on stroke.
Back to Top
 
Diabetes:
Two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke. Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder affecting the body's ability to make or use insulin. Insulin is the hormone that transports glucose (blood sugar) from digested nutrients into the body's cells for energy and growth. There are two types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. With type 1 diabetes the body cannot produce insulin. In order to control their blood sugar, the patient must use insulin injections. In type 2 diabetes, the body produces insulin but is unable to process it and/or use it correctly. In most cases this may be controlled by diet and exercise. If you are diabetic, following your doctor's recommendations helps you maintain control and lessens your risk for stroke.
Back to Top
 
 
Physical Inactivity:
Physical inactivity increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. You can reduce your risk by doing moderate-intensity physical activity for a total of 2 ½ hours per week.
Back to Top
 
 
Obesity:
Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Only smoking exceeds obesity in contributing to the total U.S. death rate. The percentage of overweight or obese persons in Utah and the U.S. has increased dramatically over the past 10 years. Adults who are obese are also at a greater risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, and endometrial, breast, prostate, and colon cancer.
Back to Top
 
Contributing Factors for Stroke:
Researchers continually discover other factors that seem to relate to stroke. The following are a few of these factors:  
  • Alcohol
  • Stress
 
Back to Top