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Learning About Risk Factors for Stroke

What puts you at risk for stroke?

Your chances of having a stroke depend on your risk factors. Some risks can be lowered with treatment and a healthy lifestyle. Others can't.

This list includes some of the risk factors for having a stroke. You and your doctor can discuss your risk and how to lower it.

Risk factors you can change or control with treatment

  • Atrial fibrillation. This type of irregular heartbeat increases the risk of blood clots that could cause a stroke.
  • Atherosclerosis. Also called hardening of the arteries, this happens when fatty deposits build up inside arteries. It can cause conditions such as carotid artery disease or coronary artery disease.
  • Diabetes. Diabetes results in high blood sugar. Over time, high blood sugar can lead to hardening of the arteries.
  • High blood pressure. Over time, this damages the walls of the arteries which can lead to hardening of the arteries.
  • High cholesterol. This can lead to the buildup of fatty deposits in artery walls.
  • Hormone therapy. This includes taking hormone therapy for menopause or using birth control options with estrogen.
  • Other health problems. There are many problems that raise the risk of blood clots that could cause a stroke. These include sickle cell disease and blood clotting problems.

Risk factors you can control with a heart-healthy lifestyle

  • Smoking. Smoking, or even inhaling second-hand smoke, increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Being overweight. This makes it more likely that you'll develop high blood pressure, heart problems, and diabetes. These conditions make a stroke more likely.
  • Drinking too much alcohol or using recreational drugs. This means more than 3 drinks a day for men and 2 drinks a day for women. Recreational drugs include cocaine, amphetamines, and cannabis.
  • Not getting enough physical activity. If you aren't active, you have a higher risk of health conditions that make a stroke more likely.
  • Not eating a heart-healthy diet. Heart-healthy eating includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains. You limit things like sodium, alcohol, and sugar.

Risk factors you can't control

  • Having had a previous stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack).
  • Having a family history of stroke. Your chances of having a stroke are higher if other people in your family have had one.
  • Being older. The risk of stroke goes up as you age.
  • Being of Indigenous, African, or South Asian descent.
  • Being female. Women have a higher risk of stroke than men.
  • Having certain problems during pregnancy. These include gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
  • Being past menopause.

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