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When it comes to stroke, there are some genetic risk factors that we cannot change, while others are based on our lifestyle and can be improved.

Risk factors you cannot change

  • Age – the chance of having a stroke doubles for each decade of life after the age of 55.
  • Family history – your risk is greater if a parent, grandparent, or sibling has had a stroke.
  • Race – African Americans have a higher risk of death from stroke than Caucasians, partly because they have higher risks of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
  • Gender – Women have more strokes than men, and stroke kills more women than men. Birth control pills, pregnancy, a history of preeclampsia/eclampsia or gestational diabetes, and post-menopausal hormone therapy all increase a woman’s chance of stroke.
  • Medical history – You are at a greater risk of stroke if you’ve already had a stroke, a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or heart attack.

Risk factors you can change or control

  • High blood pressure – This is the leading cause of stroke.
  • Cigarette smoking – The nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke damages the cardiovascular system.
  • Diabetes – Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure and are overweight, which increases their stroke risk even more.
  • Carotid or other artery disease – The carotid arteries in the neck supply blood to the brain. If a carotid is narrowed by fatty deposits, it may become blocked by a blood clot.
  • Peripheral artery disease – This narrowing of the blood vessels carrying blood to the leg and arm muscles is caused by fatty buildups of plaque on the artery walls.
  • Atrial fibrillation – A heart rhythm disorder, this is caused when the heart’s upper chambers quiver instead of beating effectively, which can let the blood pool and clot. If a clot breaks off, enters the bloodstream and lodges in an artery leading to the brain, it can cause a stroke.
  • Other heart disease – This includes dilated cardiomyopathy, heart valve disease and some types of congenital heart defects.
  • Sickle cell disease – Sickled red blood cells are less able to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs, tending to stick to blood vessel walls and blocking arteries.
  • High cholesterol
  • Poor diet – A diet that is high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can raise one’s cholesterol, while diets high in sodium contribute to high blood pressure, and diets that are high in calories lead to obesity.
  • Physical inactivity and obesity – Keeping active and at a healthy weight lowers your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.