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Stroke

What Increases The Risk For A Stroke?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 16:52

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Anybody can have a stroke, but certain factors place a person at higher risk. Some factors that increase the risk of stroke cannot be changed, while others are linked to lifestyle.

Risk Factors That Cannot Be Changed

Some risk factors for stroke cannot be changed:

  • Age - The older a person gets, the greater the risk of stroke.
  • Sex - Men are more likely to have a stroke than women are.
  • Race - Blacks have a greater risk of stroke than whites do.
  • Diabetes- People with diabetes mellitus are more at risk.
  • A history of migraine headaches- Recent studies indicate that women who experience migraines are at higher risk for ischemic stroke (stroke caused by a blockage in a blood vessel).
  • A prior stroke -Someone who has had a stroke has a slightly increased risk for another.

Risk Factors That Can Be Changed With Medical Treatment

The major risk factors for stroke that medical treatment can change are:

  • High blood pressure- High blood pressure has no warning signs, so regular blood pressure checks are important. The condition can be easily and successfully controlled with medication.

    For more detailed information on how to lower your blood pressure, go to High Blood Pressure.

  • TIAs, or "mini-strokes" - A surprising number of people ignore the symptoms of TIAs, which are warning signs that a stroke may be about to happen. But people who have had TIAs can take steps to help prevent a major stroke.
  • Berry aneurysms - These are small, sac-like areas within the wall of a cerebral artery. Some people are born with berry aneurysms. They occur most often at the junctures of vessels at the base of the brain. Berry aneurysms may rupture without warning, causing bleeding within the brain.
  • Cardiovascular disease - Certain disorders of the heart and/or blood vessels, such as atherosclerosis and atrial fibrillation, can produce blood clots that may break loose and travel to the brain.

Nice To Know:

How is stroke connected to cardiovascular disease ?

Atrial fibrillation is a heart disorder in which the heart beats quickly and in an irregular manner. As a result, the heart's chambers do not completely empty themselves of blood. Blood that remains in these chambers can become stagnant, and clots can form. These clots can then travel in the bloodstream to the brain and cause a stroke.

Individuals with atrial fibrillation often need to take anticoagulant drugs ("blood-thinners"). These medications help prevent the formation of blood clots.

Atherosclerosis is also called "hardening of the arteries." Cholesterol plaque and other fatty substances build up on the inner walls of arteries, causing them to narrow. Pieces of plaque from deposits on the inner walls of arteries can break off and travel throughout the body. They can cause a stroke if they block blood flow to the brain.

Atherosclerosis can be especially dangerous if it affects the arteries in the neck, called the carotid arteries, because any clots that might break off will not have far to travel before reaching the brain.

Risk Factors That Can Be Changed By Lifestyle Modifications

Risk factors for stroke than can be controlled by changes in lifestyle are:

  • High blood cholesterol levels - Studies have shown that lowering cholesterol levels can reduce the risk of stroke by as much as 30 percent. Keeping cholesterol low can reduce the risk of blood clots and buildup within the walls of an artery in the brain.

    For more information about reducing your blood cholesterol levels, go to How To Lower Your Cholesterol Level.

  • Cigarette smoking - Cigarette smoking has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, artery disease in the legs, and lung cancer. Nicotine raises blood pressure, carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen the blood can carry to the brain, and cigarette smoke makes the blood thicker and more likely to clot. It is never too late to give up smoking.
  • Taking birth control pills if you are a smoker - Research has proven that smoking and taking birth control pills significantly increases a woman's risk for stroke. Together, they can cause blood clots to form. Women who take birth control pills should not smoke.
  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol - Frequent intoxication can make a person more likely to experience bleeding in the brain. Also, alcohol in large amounts can raise blood pressure.
  • Obesity - Being overweight increases your risk of having a stroke, along with other health problems.
  • Lack of exercise - Moderate exercise can help keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels within normal ranges.
  • Poor diet - A diet high in fat can cause conditions within the body that can contribute to a stroke.

Stroke