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Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine

 
Risk factors


Most scientists agree that these things affect the risk of stroke. Some may apply to you, but others may not.

Age
Sex
Family history
Race/ethnicity
Tobacco smoke
Weight and waist size
Diet
Alcohol and stroke
Physical activity
Blood pressure
Diabetes
Blood cholesterol




Factors that increase a person's risk of stroke but cannot be changed include:

Age and stroke
Most people who have strokes are over the age of 55, and the risk of stroke increases with age - the older a person is, the higher the risk of stroke.

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Sex and stroke
Both men and women have strokes, but men have a higher risk than women.

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Family history and stroke
A person with a close relative who has had a stroke or heart attack (especially before the age of 65) may be at higher risk of stroke.

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Race, ethnicity and stroke
African Americans tend to have a higher risk of stroke than other racial and ethnic groups.

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Most risk factors for stroke can be modified to reduce risk, either through lifestyle changes or through medication, if needed. These include:

Tobacco smoke and stroke
The chemicals in tobacco smoke increase the build up of plaque in artery walls and promote the development of blood clots that can cause strokes. Smoking increases the risk of stroke by itself, and it can also increase the effects other stroke risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and high cholesterol. Smokers have more than twice the risk of stroke compared to non-smokers. Exposure to tobacco smoke, including cigar and pipe smoke, increases your chance of stroke. New evidence shows that even passive smoke (the smoke from someone else's cigarettes) may increase the risk of stroke.

Tobacco use also increases your risk of heart attack, peripheral vascular disease, emphysema, bronchitis, diabetes, osteoporosis and cancers of the lung, bladder, kidney, pancreas, cervix, lip, mouth, tongue, larynx, throat and esophagus. For many people, quitting smoking is the single best thing they can do do to improve their health.


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Weight, waist size and stroke
The risk of stroke goes up as body weight increases. This is especially true for people who carry extra body fat around the waist (called "apple shaped"). Extra weight puts extra strain on the whole body, increasing the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Maintaining a healthy weight not only decreases the risk of stroke, it also decreases the risk of heart attacks and cancer of the colon, kidney, breast and uterus.

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Diet and stroke
There are many dietary factors that you can use to lower your risk of stroke. Foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains decrease the risk of stroke and other diseases, like heart disease.

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Alcohol and stroke
People who are heavy drinkers have an increased risk of stroke. One reason for this is that heavy drinking can lead to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for stroke.

Alcohol does have both risks and benefits. It can raise your risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, high blood pressure, stroke and bone loss (osteoporosis). But moderate amounts (1 drink/day for females; 2 drinks/day for males) can actually lower your risk of heart attack and diabetes. Talk to a doctor about how alcohol may affect your health


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Physical activity and stroke
Exercise is one of the best ways to help maintain a healthy weight. Not only does exercise decrease the risk of stroke, it also helps prevent other diseases such as heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and colon cancer. Even just 30 minutes of moderate exercise (like walking) daily can decrease your risk of disease.

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Blood pressure and stroke
Blood pressure is the force created when the heart pumps blood. When a person has high blood pressure (hypertension), the heart has to pump harder and the blood vessels are under increased pressure, which can lead to injury of the vessels and stroke. Hypertension is also associated with an increased risk of heart disease and kidney damage. Some people are able to control their blood pressure with diet and exercise, while others need medication.

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Diabetes and stroke
People with diabetes do not have normal control of their blood sugar levels, and the high blood sugar that results from this condition can cause damage to the body, including the nerves and blood vessels. Diabetes by itself increases the risk of stroke and it also increases the risk of stroke associated with other conditions, like hypertension, smoking and high cholesterol. Avoiding smoking, staying physically active and maintaining a healthy weight can all help control or prevent adult-onset diabetes, and medication is also available if needed.

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Blood cholesterol and stroke
There are different types of cholesterol in the body. If the blood cholesterol is at unhealthy levels it can lead to damage of the blood vessel walls. Blood tests can show if your LDL is too high or if your HDL is too low. Diet, exercise, weight control and avoiding smoking can all help control your cholesterol levels. Your doctor can also prescribe medications if necessary.

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