Stroke’s Treatable Risk Factors

Don’t let a stroke take your independence or your life. Do what you can today to lower your risk.

Your brain requires a constant supply of blood to function. When a stroke cuts off this vital flow of blood, oxygen, and food, it takes only minutes for brain cells to begin to die.

The severity of the stroke, the part of the brain affected, and how much of the brain was damaged by the stroke will determine the outcome. In a matter of minutes, your memory, motor control, language, or even your life can be taken away.

An overwhelming two-thirds of stroke survivors will have some sort of long-term disability. While stroke is one of the leading causes of death, 80 percent of them could be prevented with simple lifestyle changes.

Some risk factors for stroke include age (being over 55), a family history of stroke, race (African Americans are at an increased risk), or gender (males are at a higher risk than females). While these risk factors can’t be changed, many risks can be managed. Read on to find out if you’re at risk and how to prevent a future stroke.

Risk 1: High Blood Pressure

Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure puts you at the greatest risk for stroke, doubling or quadrupling your risk before age 80. If your blood pressure is higher than 120/80 mmHg, you may need to work with your doctor to develop a plan for lowering your levels. You can also get started on your own with weight loss, a diet low in sodium and high in fruits and vegetables, and regular exercise. If these don’t work, blood pressure-lowering medications may be necessary.

Risk 2: Smoking

Want to lower your risk of stroke and multiple other health problems? Quit smoking. Like hypertension, smoking drastically raises your risk of suffering a stroke. Smoking contributes to atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty substances) in the arteries that deliver blood to your brain, nicotine increases your blood pressure, the carbon monoxide produced from smoking lowers the level of oxygen in your blood, and cigarette smoke thickens your blood, making it clot easier. In the end, all of these put you at increased risk for stroke. Work with your physician to develop a plan for quitting.

Risk 3: Diabetes

When you think of diabetes, you think of blood sugar and insulin levels. But the disease also damages your blood vessels, including those in your brain. In addition, high blood sugar levels are dangerous in case of a stroke, often leading to more extensive brain damage. Take the necessary steps to control your diabetes and manage your blood sugar and you’ll go a long way toward fending off stroke.

Risk 4: Bad Cholesterol

Plaque buildup in your arteries caused by high cholesterol restricts blood flow and hardens the arteries, leading to atherosclerosis and an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. Keep your cholesterol in check by getting your cholesterol levels checked at least every five years after age 20. A cholesterol level higher than 200 mg/dl may need to be treated with medications for quick results, but lifestyle changes are important for long-term health. Exercise, quit smoking, eat less saturated fat and more fiber, and limit yourself to one or two drinks a day to lower LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.

Risk 5: Obesity and Sedentary Lifestyle

Being overweight and not getting enough exercise both put you at risk for hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes—all risk factors for stroke. Extra weight around your waist is especially dangerous for your health, as the greater the ratio of your waist-to-hip circumference, the greater your risk of stroke. Take steps today to lose weight through diet and exercise, shooting for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise.