Stroke Risk Factors and Prevention

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and morbidity in the U.S. with approximately 795,000 stroke events every year. It is more prevalent in low-income and middle-income countries and it’s estimated that without intervention, the global deaths due to stroke could rise to 7.8 million in 2030. Stroke mortality in the U.S. had decreased for the past two decades, but if recent trends are anything to go by, the stroke mortality may be on the rise again. While the main reason remains unclear, obesity and diabetes are some of the known causes.

What is a Stroke?

Stroke is a heterogeneous syndrome that occurs when blood flow to certain parts of the brain is cut off. The blood needs oxygen without which the brain cells start dying within minutes. A stroke can happen in one of two ways:

Ischemic Stroke

This is the most common type of stroke accounting for almost 80 percent of all stroke events. It happens when one of the blood vessels that transports blood to the brain gets cut off. This can be due to fatty deposits in the arteries breaking off and finding their way to the brain or blood clots formed by poor blood flow from an irregular heartbeat.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

While being less common, a hemorrhagic stroke can be severe. It happens due to bleeding in the brain caused by a weakened blood vessel that leaks or when one of the blood vessels in your brain swells and bursts. High blood pressure and taking too much blood thinner medications can cause this type of stroke.

Stroke Risk Factors

Stroke comes in different varieties with Ischemic and Hemorrhagic stroke being the most prevalent. This makes identification of stroke risk factors complicated. With that being said, knowing your risk factor can impact what happens later. The risk factors can be divided into two major categories – controllable and uncontrollable.

Controllable Risk Factors Smoking

Tobacco use increases your stroke risk. Nicotine damages the blood vessel walls, lowers the level of oxygen in your blood, raises your blood pressure and puts a load on your heart. Additionally, cigarette smoke thickens your blood, making it more likely to clot. People exposed to secondhand smoke can also be affected. The risk of stroke greatly increases if you smoke and use birth control pills.

High Blood Pressure

Also called hypertension, high blood pressure is among the main causes of stroke. According to, “blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries.” Hypertension increases the pressure which strains your blood vessel walls and forces the heart to pump blood harder. As a result, your blood vessels become weak and some of your organs get damaged. High blood pressure increases your stroke risk by 1.5 times and the important determinant is how you control it.


Diabetes is a condition where the body doesn’t produce sufficient insulin (Type I Diabetes) or the cells don’t use the insulin (Type 2 Diabetes). The body needs insulin to produce sugar which is the fuel needed for us to function. People with diabetes are up to four times more likely to have a stroke than those who don’t.

High Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol, the fatty compound in our blood, can be found in the food we eat or can be produced by our bodies. High cholesterol in the blood is unhealthy and can block or reduce blood flow to the brain, causing a stroke. High cholesterol also increases your risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis, a blood circulation problem. A normal total cholesterol level should be below 200, and if yours is higher, then your chances of having a stroke are also high.

Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

AFib describes an irregular heartbeat that mostly affects older adults who are above 60 years. It’s also common in people with high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Atrial fibrillation causes your blood to pool in the heart, forming clots. This raises your risk of stroke.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

  • Age. Stroke can happen at any stage of life and to anyone. The risk of stroke doubles after the age of 55.
  • Race and Ethnicity. African Americans, Hispanic, and Asian ethnic communities are more susceptible to stroke than Caucasians.
  • Family History. If a family member has had a stroke, it increases your chances of a stroke at an early age.
  • Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). These are temporary or brief stroke-like symptoms. People who have experienced TIA have an increased risk of experiencing a full-blown stroke.
  • Fibromuscular Dysplasia (FMD). This is a disorder where some of the arteries responsible for transporting blood throughout your body fail to develop as they should.

Stroke Prevention Healthy Diet Things to Consider:

  • Avoid processed foods.
  • Reduce your salt intake.
  • Increase your intake of fruits, whole grains, and vegetables.
  • Reduce your intake of sugary drinks and foods like cakes, soda, and junk food.
  • Opt for protein foods like seafood, poultry, legumes, nuts, seeds, and lean meats.


Quit the sedentary lifestyle and get active. Physical activity has been shown to reduce stroke risk factors, especially for those exercising at least five times a week. Sign up for gym classes or get a personal trainer to guide you through your daily workouts. To add on to that, you should quit smoking and reduce your alcohol intake. The bottom line to preventing the risk factors associated with stroke is to live a healthy life that involves a lot of exercises and healthy diets.

All images by Pixabay


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