What 10 factors could cause a stroke to occur?

More people survive strokes now than 20 years ago. Rates of stroke dropped dramatically from 1975 through the early 2000s, but they are on the rise again. Over the period of 2010 to 2050, the number of strokes is expected to more than double, with the majority of these happening among people over age 75 and in people from underrepresented/marginalized racial and ethnic minority groups.

Maintaining good health and staying positively engaged with life through old age will be critical to keep the collective risk of stroke from increasing. These efforts directly benefit you on an individual level, too. Some stroke risk factors can’t be changed, like your age, race, gender, prior history of strokes, and genetics. But there are many that you can control.

This article will cover the 10 biggest risk factors that can contribute to your likelihood of having a stroke. 

What can cause a stroke?

A stroke is either caused by a blood clot or a tear in a blood vessel near the brain. An ischemic stroke is caused by a blockage in a blood vessel supplying blood and oxygen to a part of the brain. Blood clots can travel to the brain from other parts of the body or form inside the brain itself. These make up about 87% of strokes.

The remaining 13% of strokes are mostly hemorrhagic strokes, which are caused by a tear in a blood vessel that puts pressure on the brain, depriving it of oxygen. The tear can be in the brain or the membrane surrounding it. A rare few are cerebellar strokes. These are caused by a blood clot or tear that only affects the cerebellum, which is a small part of the brain situated at the back of the brain stem, underneath the bottom edge of the skull. The cerebellum controls coordination and movement. 

While age increases the likelihood of having a stroke, it’s possible to have a stroke at any age. There are many other factors that increase the risk of stroke, such as smoking, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet. Though some stroke risk factors can’t be changed, like your age or having a previous stroke, there are plenty of risk factors you can control by maintaining good health. 

What 10 risk factors are likely to cause a stroke?

While there usually isn’t one single factor that causes a stroke to occur, there are many that can increase your risk. It’s often a combination of advanced age and high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a history of smoking, or several of these factors. But again, people of all ages and demographics can have a stroke.

Here are some of the biggest risk factors that increase the likelihood of having a stroke:

  • High blood pressure — This is the number one risk factor for strokes. High blood pressure or hypertension can damage your arteries and raise your risk for stroke as much as fourfold. It can be controlled with diet, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and medication.
  • Obesity — Inflammation caused by excess fatty tissue can make blood flow difficult and increase the risk of blockage, and both of these factors can lead to strokes.
  • High LDL cholesterol — Cholesterol is a lipid or fat in the bloodstream. Having a high amount of “bad cholesterol,” or LDL cholesterol over 100, can make blood clots more likely. 
  • Narrowed arteries — Plaque buildup in your arteries is called atherosclerosis. This plaque consists of cholesterol, fatty substances, cellular waste, calcium and fibrin, a clotting material in the blood.
  • Diabetes — People with diabetes have a stroke risk two times higher than people who don’t have diabetes. It can cause changes in blood vessels in certain locations. Controlling glucose levels is critical because too much blood glucose can also cause blood clots.
  • Arrhythmia or AFib — AFib is a disease that affects the electrical conduction of the heart, causing it to beat faster and more erratically. Blood clots that form in the heart because of AFib can be ejected and block blood flow to the brain.
  • Previous stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) — TIAs are sometimes called “mini strokes,” blockages in blood flow to the brain that only last for a brief time. These can cause damage that requires some rehabilitation. 
  • Age of 65 or older — People over the age of 65 increase their risk of stroke with each additional decade. Staying active and healthy helps keep your risk lower. 
  • Race and socioeconomic status A study of residents of northern Manhattan, New York, showed that Black people had 2.4 times the risk of stroke as white residents living in the same urban community, and that Hispanics had 2 times the risk. Lower socioeconomic status can increase other risk factors, such as poor diet and less physical activity. 
  • Family history of stroke — People with an immediate family member or grandparent who has had a stroke, especially before age 65, may be at greater risk. Strokes can be caused by genetic disorders like CADASIL, which can block blood flow in the brain.

How to lower your risk of stroke

Staying well both mentally and physically by eating a balanced diet and getting daily movement and regular exercise will lower many of the health-related risk factors like high blood pressure. Smoking tobacco and alcohol consumption are preventable, and having supportive relationships, healthy ways to cope with life problems and enough income to manage stress effectively can be instrumental.

Start your stroke rehabilitation journey at Ability KC

Making the fullest recovery possible after a stroke or another medical condition is important for keeping your risk of having another stroke to a minimum. We take a comprehensive and holistic approach to stroke rehabilitation that puts the patient at the center of their individualized treatment plan. Group therapies and activities at Ability KC keep individuals recovering from a stroke in touch with a community of others who are also in recovery. Giving and receiving support is a powerful way to maintain a sense of purpose and hope.

Our intensive day rehabilitation program and our outpatient rehabilitation program include educational, vocational and therapeutic services to support each patient in reaching their fullest potential for independent living.

Are you or a loved one recovering from a stroke? Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.