Stroke is a serious, life-threatening condition in which the blood supply to the brain is interrupted or diminished, often resulting in permanent brain damage and disability. While nearly 800,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke each year, these conditions are largely preventable. In fact, up to 80% of all strokes can be prevented.
Part of prevention comes from knowing to understand your risk factors. There are many factors contributing to the condition, including lifestyle, medical, and genetic factors, which are explored below.
Lifestyle Risk Factors
Smoking: Smoking can damage the blood vessels in many ways, causing thickening and narrowing and increasing the buildup of fat. This makes it more difficult for blood to get through, which can eventually lead to conditions like stroke and heart disease.
Being Overweight: Excess body weight produces similar effects: it can increase blood pressure and spike cholesterol levels, so exercising regularly and eating a diet consisting mostly of unprocessed foods can help to minimize your risk factors.
Heavy/Binge Drinking: A recent study linked frequent binge drinking to specific cardiovascular risk factors known to cause stroke, including high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, at a younger age. The Stroke Association recommends limiting alcohol consumption to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
Medical Risk Factors
High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure puts physical pressure on your blood vessels, which can cause them to narrow, rupture, leak, or experience clots. Luckily, high blood pressure can now be controlled successfully through medications and lifestyle changes.
Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes is an independent risk factor for stroke, but when coupled with being overweight and having high blood pressure (which most patients with the disease have), the correlation is even stronger. Managing diabetes is critical to reducing risks of other serious conditions, including heart disease and stroke.
Other Risk Factors
Sex: Each year, more women than men have strokes. Certain factors such as pregnancy, gestational diabetes, oral contraceptive use (especially when combined with smoking), and hormone therapy can impact risk, so be sure to discuss your women’s health history with your physician.
Age: Individuals over the age of 55 are more likely to suffer a stroke than younger individuals. For this reason, minimizing risk factors wherever possible and maintaining regular preventive care appointments with physicians is essential in older adults.
Personal/Family History: If you’ve previously suffered a stroke or heart attack, or if someone in your immediate family has, you may face a higher risk of stroke. Individuals who have experienced cardiac issues should maintain the preventive care treatment plan recommended by their cardiologist.
While stroke isn’t always preventable, having even a basic understanding of these principles can help you maintain awareness and seek the right preventive care to help reduce your risk.