Stroke Risk Factors

While some stroke risk factors cannot be changed, certain factors can be monitored and controlled to help reduce your risk of stroke. Learn more to identify your own risk factors, and to begin taking steps to lower your risk of stroke.

Risk Factors You Can Control or Treat

  • High blood pressure is a condition where the blood pressure in the arteries is too high.
  • Diabetes is a disease where the body does not make enough insulin or cannot use its insulin the way it should. People with diabetes have 2 to 4 times the risk of stroke.
  • Cigarette smoking doubles the chance of a stroke. The risk lowers immediately after quitting.
  • Poor diet. Foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, or sodium increase risk.
  • Physical inactivity and obesity. Those who are physically inactive, obese, or both increase their risk.
  • Atrial fibrillation can cause blood to pool and clot in the heart's upper chambers. If a clot breaks off and lodges in an artery leading to the brain, a stroke results.

Risk Factors You Cannot Control

  • Age. Strokes can occur at any age. Nearly one-quarter of them occur in people under the age of 65. An increasing number of people between the ages of 40 and 50 are having strokes.
  • Gender. Men are more likely to have a stroke, but women are twice as likely to die from one.
  • Family history. A family history of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or vascular conditions may increase risk.
  • Race. African Americans are 1.4 times more likely to die of stroke than Caucasians.
  • Previous stroke, TIA, or heart attack. A previous stroke or TIA (mini-stroke) increases the risk of another stroke by 25 to 40 percent.
  • Heart disease or coronary artery disease can result in decreased or blocked blood flow and lead to a stroke or heart attack.

Risk Factors Specific to Women

  • Birth control pills. Women who take birth control pills may be twice as likely to suffer a stroke than women who do not.
  • Pregnancy increases the risk of stroke due to changes in blood pressure and stress on the heart.
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which is often used to relieve symptoms of menopause, can increase stroke risk.
  • Migraines with aura. Women who suffer migraines with aura may be up to 10 times more likely to have a stroke.