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Risk Factors for Stroke

Certain medical conditions can increase your odds of having a stroke. However, many people do not know they have these conditions and may think they feel healthy. Regular checkups with your doctor can uncover many of these conditions and help you change some of them to decrease your chances of having a stroke.

  • High blood pressure is one of the most common and most important risk factors for stroke. An estimated 50 million Americans, or one in six, has high blood pressure, and many don’t even know it! Even mild high blood pressure (140-159 for the top number) can increase stroke chances by 50%, and moderate to severe (160 or higher on the top) can increase chances by 300%. Treating blood pressure decreases this risk, and certain blood pressure medications can decrease stroke risk in other ways, too.
  • Heart disease places people at risk for stroke, and people who have had heart attacks have a 1-5% chance of a stroke in the next two weeks. A certain kind of irregular heart beat called atrial fibrillation actually makes it five times more likely to have a stroke, though certain medications can help.
  • High cholesterol is strongly related to heart disease, and certain cholesterol-lowering medications have a dramatic effect on stroke prevention.
  • People living with diabetes have double the risk of stroke.
  • Certain other proteins in the blood can indicate if there is a higher risk of stroke, and these can be checked by your doctor.
  • Smoking increases overall stroke risk by 50%, but increases the risk of stroke from bleeding aneurysms by anywhere from 400-900%. Quitting decreases stroke chances immediately, and the effects of smoking are reversed totally within 5 years.
  • Aging places people at higher risk, with significantly increased chances for men over age 60 for men and women over age 70, though strokes can and do occur in younger people.
  • Racial background affects stroke risk. African Americans are at highest risk, followed by Hispanics and Native Americans, Asians and then Caucasians.
  • Being physically inactive or obese can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
  • Excessive alcohol intake -- drinking an average of more than one drink per day for women or more than two drinks a day for men -- raises blood pressure and increases the risk of stroke.
  • Illegal drug use, such as intravenous drug abuse, carries a high risk of stroke. Cocaine use also has been linked to stroke.