Think you may be at risk of a stroke? These are 13 risk factors

Stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. An estimated 7 million American adults have had a stroke; however, it is stated that 80% of strokes are preventable.​ Some risk factors for stroke can’t be changed, like your age or your race. But even if you have some of these permanent risk factors, there are likely other things you can do to lower your risk.

People who lead a sedentary lifestyle and do not maintain a consistent exercise routine or active lifestyle are often at a higher risk of experiencing strokes. After a stroke, you may lose feeling and movement in part of your body, which could impact your ability to complete your activities of daily living, hobbies or meaningful activities. It’s also common to have an increased risk for falls and a heightened risk for cardiovascular disease, including another stroke.

Continue reading to discover five stroke risk factors that are unchangeable and eight risk factors that you can modify to lower your risk for a stroke.

Risk factors for stroke

Making healthy choices and forming good habits is important for everyone. But if you have more than one or two nonmodifiable risk factors, it is important to try to eliminate any modifiable risk factors that you can. These small changes can make a big difference. Again, choosing to take action on the things you can control can help you prevent a stroke in the future, whether you’ve already experienced one or not. Your doctor can help you create a comprehensive care plan to maintain wellness and lower your stroke risk.

Talk with your doctor about the following stroke risk factors to assess your personal risk and steps you can take to lower it:

Nonmodifiable risk factors​ (things you can’t change)

The following risk factors for stroke are things you won’t be able to change:

  • Age — As we age, our risk for stroke increases. The increase in risk is often attributed to conditions like hypertension. After 60, the importance of diet and exercises increases, as those are critical factors in preventing or managing these conditions.
  • Race​ — People of African American, Hispanic and Native American descent in the United States have a higher risk of stroke than people who are white. African Americans and Hispanic Americans are also more likely to have a stroke at a younger age.
  • Sex​ Lifetime stroke risk is 1 in 5 for women and 1 in 6 for men​.This ratio is affected by physiological conditions and lifestyle trends in men versus women. A small study from UC San Francisco and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital suggests that people who identify as LGBTQ may have a higher risk of stroke at a younger age than those who identify as straight and cisgender. Factors include HIV and current or previous history of syphilis and hepatitis C, conditions that can increase stroke risk as a result of inflammation and blockage of blood vessels.
  • Family history​ Genetics can be an important predictor of stroke. If one or more of your family members have had a stroke, your risk will be higher.
  • Previous cardiovascular accident — The risk of a second stroke is highest within the first 90 days after a stroke, with about 1 in 2 recurrences happening within this time frame. About 1 in 2 recurrences happen within that time frame. The prognosis is worse after a second stroke, with higher mortality rates and more severe and long-lasting disability.

Modifiable​ risk factors (things you can change)

Physiologically, keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight in healthy ranges are important ways to maintain a lower stroke risk. This means eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise. Things like genetics and other health conditions can affect your cardiovascular health, but there may be lifestyle modifications, supplements or medications that can help.

If you’ve already had a stroke, a comprehensive plan of care that includes exercise, diet modification and appropriate medications could lower the risk of a second stroke by 80%​.

These stroke risk factors can mostly be eliminated with healthy habits and lifestyle choices:

  • Hypertension​ Hypertension is a blood pressure reading of 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher. Chronic high blood pressure can usually be adjusted by lowering your stress level, eating well and exercising. Some people need medication to keep their blood pressure in a healthy range.
  • Smoking​ — Smoking increases your risk factor for stroke independently of other factors. Heavy smokers are more likely to have a stroke than those who smoke less frequently.
  • Hyperlipidemia Hyperlipidemia or high cholesterol is an excess of lipids or fats in your blood. This can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke because blood can’t flow through your arteries easily. Bad cholesterol (LDL) is the most dangerous type because it can build up plaque deposits in your arteries.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes — High blood sugar from diabetes can block blood vessels leading to the brain, causing a stroke. Adults with diabetes are twice as likely to have a stroke as people without diabetes. Actively managing your blood sugar and taking care of your health can help you lower your risk.
  • Physical activity — Getting daily movement and regular exercise can help you lower your risk of stroke significantly, especially when you eat a balanced diet. Low- to moderate-intensity cardiovascular workouts are helpful for most people, but with certain health conditions, you may need a modified exercise plan.
  • Weight ​— Genetics and health conditions can play a big role in your weight, although diet and exercise can help most people gain some control over it. Carrying excess weight can put pressure on blood vessels in some areas, and having high cholesterol or hypertension can multiply your risk of clots forming. Your doctor can recommend the right weight range for you and help you create a plan to maintain it.
  • Alcohol use​ — Drinking excess alcohol frequently or on occasion can raise your risk of stroke. If you have trouble limiting your alcohol use, talk with your doctor.
  • Drug use Drug use is causing more strokes among young adults who aren’t otherwise at a high risk. Certain recreational drugs can constrict blood vessels or cause instantaneous changes in blood pressure.

How can Ability KC help support individuals with recurrent stroke prevention?

You can lower your individual risk with diet, exercise and some lifestyle modifications. That doesn’t mean all of these things are easy. If you’re a smoker or you struggle with substance use, it will take not just effort and determination, but also assistance and support from care providers. Your doctor can connect you with resources for smoking cessation, help with alcohol dependency, and support for living a healthy lifestyle.

If you’ve already had a stroke, recovering your health and forming healthy habits are essential ways to help prevent another one from happening. At Ability KC, our comprehensive stroke rehabilitation program helps people take an active role in their health choices and understand the risk factors of a stroke through education. Your therapist can help you identify appropriate resources in the community or personalized home programs to help live a healthier lifestyle.

If you have already had a stroke and are looking to make changes to your lifestyle to prevent a second stroke, contact our team today for more information and schedule an initial assessment.