Know These Eight Controllable Risk Factors for Stroke

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.

Are you at risk of having a stroke? If so, it’s time to make some changes to protect your good health.

Each year, about 795,000 Americans have a stroke. In fact, stroke is the fifth most common cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in the U.S., according to the American Stroke Association.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted either from a clot that blocks blood flow or a leaking or burst blood vessel that causes bleeding into the brain. Brain damage results as brain cells die from lack of oxygen.

Risk factors that increase your chance of having a stroke fall into two categories, according to neurointerventionalist Bryan Ludwig, MD, Stroke Neurology Chair, Premier Health Neuroscience Institute. “Some are what we call modifiable risk factors, which are things that you can control. Others are things that are passed genetically.” Since there is little you can do about your family history, doctors focus on the risk factors that can be controlled.

Learn more as Dr. Ludwig discusses the risk factors for stroke.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

Here are eight risk factors for stroke and how you can work to control them:Know These Eight Controllable Risk Factors for Stroke - In Content

  1. Cardiovascular problems. Atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heartbeat), plaque buildup in the arteries and narrowing of the carotid arteries all create changes that lead to a higher risk of stroke. Medications and other medical treatments can help manage these conditions and lower your stroke risk.
  2. High blood pressure. The number one cause of stroke, high blood pressure is an abnormal force of blood moving through your arteries. The added pressure can weaken blood vessels and increase the risk of stroke one-and-a-half times compared to an optimal blood pressure of 120/80. Control blood pressure with a low-sodium diet and other healthy eating habits, physical activity and medications, if needed.
  3. High cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the blood that can slow or block blood flow through your blood vessels. Keep total cholesterol under 200. Work on lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol by eating healthy, staying physically active and taking medication, if necessary.
  4. Smoking. Smoking doubles the risk of stroke as compared to a nonsmoker. It contributes to clot formation, thickens your blood and contributes to plaque buildup in your arteries. Do whatever it takes to quit: nicotine patches or gum, counseling, acupuncture or a smoking cessation program.
  5. Diabetes. People who have diabetes are up to four times more likely to have a stroke than people who don’t have the disease, largely because of complications of diabetes, such as high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) and high cholesterol. Managing diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, improving eating habits, and taking prescribed oral medications or insulin are important ways to reduce stroke risk.
  6. Physical inactivity. Being inactive contributes to most chronic disease processes and puts you at greater risk for stroke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week and weight training at least two days a week.
  7. Being overweight or obese. Extra weight puts greater strain on your entire circulatory system. It contributes to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, all risk factors for stroke. Federal dietary recommendations for Americans include eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and nuts; eating more seafood in place of red meat, poultry and eggs; and limiting intake of sodium, fats, added sugars and refined grains.
  8. Heavy alcohol use. Many studies link alcohol use to stroke. Excessive alcohol also can increase blood pressure. Women should have no more than one drink a day (equal to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1¼ to 1½ ounces of liquor) and men should have no more than two drinks per day.
Since there is little you can do about your family history, doctors focus on the risk factors that can be controlled.

Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), or mini strokes, are serious warning signs of a possible stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control, your risk of having a stroke after a TIA can be as high as 17 percent, with the greatest risk during the first week.

Some factors put you at increased risk for stroke, but are out of your control. These include age, family history of stroke, race and ethnicity, gender, previous stroke or medical disorders such as fibromuscular dysplasia (fibrous tissue narrowing artery walls) and patent foramen ovale (hole in the heart). If you’re living with any of these risk factors, it’s all the more important to work on the factors you can change.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.

Small Steps: Exercise Reduces Your Risk.
Help prevent – or manage – diabetes with regular aerobic exercise and strength training.