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Stroke Risk Factors You Can Change

Up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable, and you can reduce your chances of having a stroke by knowing your risks and working with your doctor to manage it. 

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is the most important controllable risk factor for stroke. Many people believe the effective treatment of high blood pressure is a key reason for the decline in the death rates for stroke.

Cigarette Smoking

Smoking doubles the risk for stroke, and 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 for women.

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, which increases their risk even more.

Carotid or Peripheral 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 for stroke.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation , a heart rhythm disorder, causes the heart's upper chambers to quiver instead of beating effectively, which can allow the blood to 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 for 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 (Sickle Cell Anemia)

Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disorder that mainly affects African-American and Hispanic children. Sickled red blood cells are misshapen, so they 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 stroke.

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 is 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. Learn how to improve your diet and reduce the risk of stroke.

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. 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 all days. Learn how to increase physical activity and reduce your risk of stroke.

More information about stroke risk factors you can change.