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Stroke - risk factors

Alternate Names

Stroke - prevention

What Is a Risk Factor?

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or health problem. Some risk factors for stroke you cannot change. Some you can. Changing the risk factors that you have control over will help you live a longer, healthier life.

Risk Factors You Cannot Change

You cannot change these stroke risk factors.

  • Your age. Risk of stroke goes up with age.
  • Your gender. Men have a higher risk of getting heart disease than women, except in older adults.
  • Your genes or race. If your parents had a stroke, you are at higher risk. African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans also have a higher risk.
  • Diseases such as cancer, chronic kidney disease, and some types of arthritis.
  • Weak areas in an artery wall or abnormal arteries and veins .
  • Pregnancy -- both during and in the weeks right after the pregnancy.

Blood clots from the heart may travel to the brain and cause a stroke. This may happen in people with manmade or infected heart valves. It may also happen because of a heart defect you were born with.

A very weak heart and some abnormal heartbeats can also cause blood clots.

Risk Factors You Can Change

Some risk factors for stroke that you can change are:

  • Not smoking. If you do smoke, quit.
  • Controlling your cholesterol through diet, exercise , and medicines , if needed.
  • Controlling high blood pressure through diet, exercise, and medicines, if needed. Ask your doctor what your blood pressure should be.
  • Controlling diabetes through diet, exercise, and medicines, if needed.
  • Exercising at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Eat healthy foods, eat less, and join a weight loss program, if you need to lose weight.
  • Limiting how much alcohol you drink. Women should have no more than 1 drink a day, and men no more than 2 a day.
  • Do not use cocaine and other recreational drugs.

Birth control pills can raise your risk of blood clots. Clots are more likely in women who also smoke and who are older than 35.

Good nutrition is important to your heart health. It will help control some of your risk factors.

  • Choose a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Choose lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, beans and legumes.
  • Choose low-fat dairy products, such as 1% milk and other low-fat items.
  • Avoid sodium (salt) and fats found in fried foods, processed foods, and baked goods.
  • Eat fewer animal products and fewer foods with cheese, cream, or eggs.
  • Read food labels. Stay away from saturated fat and anything with partially-hydrogenated or hydrogenated fats. These are unhealthy fats.

Your doctor may suggest taking aspirin or another blood thinner to help prevent blood clots from forming. Do not take aspirin without talking to your doctor first. If you are taking these medicines, take steps to prevent yourself from falling or tripping , which can lead to bleeding.

Follow these guidelines and the advice of your doctor to lower your chances of stroke.

References

Goldstein LB, Bushnell CD, Adams RJ, Appel LJ, Braun LT, Chaturvedi S, et al. Guidelines for the primary prevention of stroke: a guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2011 Feb;42(2):517-84. Epub 2010 Dec 2.

Updated: 3/4/2013

Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles and Department of Anatomy, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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