What’s Your Stroke Risk?

elderly woman and her caregiver's hands

Recent research shows that nearly 25% of people globally over the age of 25 will have a stroke at some point. Strokes can be fatal, but for survivors, they are also the leading cause of long-term disability – especially for those over 65. And 1 in 4 strokes happen to those who have already had one. 

The good news? Many strokes are preventable. Focusing on what you can do to prevent stroke is more important than ever, and that includes knowing the risk factors.

While there are some risk factors that you cannot control, there are many that can be changed. In this article, we’ll discuss both types and what you can do to reduce your risk. 

Risk factors you can’t control

  • Genetics/family HistoryThere are some genetic disorders that block blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke. But for most people, their risk from family history is higher if a sibling, parent or grandparent has had a stroke – especially at a younger age (under 65). 
  • Age – Although stroke is more likely to occur in those over the age of 65, it is possible to have a stroke at any age. As age increases, though, so does the risk of stroke. In fact, 2/3 of stroke hospitalizations are those over 65.
  • Gender – According to the American Stroke Association, in most age groups more men than women will have a stroke in a given year. However, women account for more than half of all stroke deaths. Women have additional risk factors that men do not have, including pregnancy, taking oral contraceptive pills, and post-menopausal hormone therapy.
  • Race – The risk of stroke can vary with race and ethnic background, and some of this has to do with the associated risk factor of higher blood pressure. African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives are a few of the specific ethnicities who have a higher risk of stroke. 
  • Personal Health History (previous strokes & heart attacks) If you have already had a stroke or a transient ischemic attack there is a much higher risk that you will experience a stroke. A previous heart attack is another risk factor when considering your future stroke risk. 

Risk factors you can control

  • Your overall health (weight, activity, diet, BP, cholesterol) – Some of the most modifiable risk factors for stroke involve things your doctor recommends doing for your overall health. These include keeping your weight in a healthy range, staying active, eating healthfully, and keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol in recommended ranges. Oftentimes, these risk factors are linked to one another. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the single most important risk factor for stroke. Carrying extra weight, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and eating a diet high in sodium may increase your risk of developing hypertension. When it comes to cholesterol, a diet high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels. So eating properly and staying active can start a domino affect that can reduce your risk in a variety of ways.
  • Your habits (smoking, drugs & alcohol) – According to the World Health Organization, 2 out of 5 stroke deaths of those under the age of 65 are linked to smoking. So quitting smoking (or not starting in the first place!) is in your best interests when it comes to reducing stroke risk. Drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per day is also associated with stroke risk. And street drug use, even marijuana, has been shown to increase the risk of stroke. Some of these drugs can cause a stroke by directly affecting the brain’s blood vessels, while others cause damage to the heart, which can indirectly lead to stroke.
  • Other health conditions –If you or a loved one has other medical conditions, following your doctor’s instructions to manage them is critical. Diabetes and certain cardiovascular conditions do increase your risk, but it is under your control to take the medications and do other things needed to keep it in check.

While diabetes is an independent risk factor for stroke, many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and are overweight — increasing their risk even more. Managing blood sugar and making overall lifestyle changes will help reduce it.

Heart disease, especially atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heartbeat), is a significant risk factor for stroke. Other conditions that increase your risk include heart valve disease, coronary artery disease, carotid artery disease, and peripheral artery disease (PAD). Those who have heart failure, enlarged hearts, and some types of congenital heart defects are at higher risk of stroke than people who have healthy hearts. Heart health is something that can be improved through the lifestyle changes mentioned above. So do your best to make those changes and help your parent or loved one do the same!

Other potential risk factors

  • Socioeconomic and geographic – While researchers are still investigating the direct causation, strokes tend to be more common in the southern states and among those with lower income levels. This could be due to a variety of things, including diet/lifestyle and access to healthcare.
  • Medical procedures – Certain types of procedures carry an additional risk of stroke because of the way they are performed. One example is procedures in which a catheter is used. Catheter-based procedures tend to be less invasive than surgical methods, but during the process debris can break loose and travel through the blood stream. Should this debris travel to the brain, it could cause a stroke. 

What you can do

Stroke is serious but it doesn’t have to happen to you or your family with the right action. If you or your parent has any of these risk factors, your best course of action is to discuss your specific situation with your healthcare professional. Be completely forthcoming about any of the above factors that may increase your risk. Armed with information, your doctor can help you develop a plan to lower your risk and stay as healthy as possible. 

If your parent or loved one needs assistance with the lifestyle changes recommended to reduce the risk of stroke, a caregiver can help! Not only do caregivers provide grocery shopping and meal prep assistance, they can also help seniors to get more active and to remain compliant to doctor’s instructions by reminding them to take medications.

Additionally, many in-home care agencies have caregivers who are specially trained to help those who have already had a stroke. Check out our stroke specialty program here to learn more. 




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