Are You at Risk for Stroke? – 10 Risk Factors

In the United States, someone has a stroke once every 40 seconds. Every four minutes, one of those strokes proves fatal. Even when stroke’s aren’t fatal, they can still lead to lifelong disabilities. Understanding what causes a stroke is an important first step in mitigating the chances of experiencing one. 

What Causes Stroke?

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. So, the direct cause of a stroke is simple enough, although strokes can be the result of a wide range of possible risk factors…

10. Age

Miniature people and the concept of an aging society.
Hyejin Kang/

The risk of a stroke doubles every 10 years after the age of 55. In other words, the older we get, the higher this risk becomes.

Do Only Elderly People Experience Stroke?

It’s important to point out that even young people can suffer from a stroke. In fact, one of every seven strokes happens to someone between the ages of 15 to 45. 

Another risk factor that is beyond our control is in our DNA… 

9. Genetics

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Our genetics determine a massive portion of our personal health. In other words, predispositions for certain medical conditions have a chance of being passed down from parents to children. These conditions include sickle cell disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), and stroke.

There is another aspect of our family we need to consider when it comes to stroke risk, though… 

8. Family History

Happy Asian family laying on bed in bedroom with happy and smile, top view

We share more than just DNA with our family; we also share environments, traditions, and other factors with the people who raise us. All of these factors can add to the risk of a stroke. 

Why It Increases Stroke Risk

Your family has a unique history. Growing up in an active or inactive household, eating certain foods from an early age, and how your family treats medical concerns can all play into your risk of having a stroke. In other words, people that grew up with families that practiced healthier habits often have lower risk of stroke than those who did not.

Another risk factor beyond our control is the following… 

7. Biological Sex

Female hormones estrogen: estradiol, estriol and progesterone and male hormone testosterone. Gender signs from pills on yellow background. Anabolic.

Cisgender women are not only more likely to have a stroke, they are also more likely to die from a stroke than cisgender men. 

Why It Increases Stroke Risk

There is a lot about the gendered risk of stroke that researchers are still working to understand. That said, two clear aspects of this risk are pregnancy and birth control pills. Namely, taking hormonal birth control pills and becoming pregnant dramatically shift hormone levels. These shifts can contribute to stroke and heart health problems. 

Your own personal medical history can also increase your stroke risk… 

6. A Previous Stroke

Doctor check up x-ray film of the brain by ct scan brain at patient room hospital.
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Already having had a stroke significantly increases your risk of having another one in the future. In fact, the risk of having a stroke compounds with each additional stroke. This fact means making preventing the first stroke a vital part of health care. 

Why It Increases Stroke Risk

A stroke is a serious injury to both the circulatory system as well as the brain. Unfortunately, a weaker body is more prone to serious events like stroke. In addition to that, a stroke indicates the presence of risk factors that could trigger a second stroke on their own. 

One of those risk factors is… 

5. High Blood Pressure 

Close-up Of Doctor Measuring Patients Blood Pressure With Stethoscope

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a leading cause of stroke. Unfortunately, there are often no outward signs of high blood pressure. The only way to know for sure is to have your blood pressure tested by a medical provider. 

Why It Increases Stroke Risk

High blood pressure causes strain on the interior walls of the blood vessels and arteries. This strain can lead to damage that causes a stroke. High blood pressure can itself be caused by other stroke risk factors, such as high cholesterol and genetics. 

As we can see, hypertension increases stroke risk. The following increases the odds of experiencing both stroke and high blood pressure… 

4. High Cholesterol

Clogged Artery with platelets and cholesterol plaque, concept for health risk for obesity or dieting and nutrition problems

Cholesterol is a natural substance produced by the liver; it is vital to the proper functioning of the body. Our livers produce enough cholesterol for our daily needs, although we also get additional cholesterol from our diets.

Why It Increases Stroke Risk

Extra cholesterol can build up in the body’s circulatory system, which includes the arteries and blood vessels in the brain. If the buildup becomes too high, blood flow to the brain can become blocked, which leads to a stroke. 

Another common cause of stroke is one of the most common health problems in the United States… 

3. Heart Disease

Man having chest pain, heart attack - black and white photo

Heart disease is incredibly common in the United States. According to the CDC, roughly one in every 4 deaths in the country is due to this condition.

Why It Increases Stroke Risk

Cardiovascular disease means there is an increasing amount of plaque in the arteries. This buildup can ultimately block blood flow to the brain. Other common causes of heart disease, such as smoking cigarettes, can create blood clots that also increase the risk of a stroke. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of risk factors for both stroke and heart disease that are controllable… 

2. Inactivity

Hand turns dice and changes the word "inactive" to "active".

A lack of adequate physical exercise is a leading risk factor for a variety of medical conditions. When we lead sedentary lives, our hearts and our circulatory systems get out of shape. This weakening of the body contributes to the risk of a stroke. Furthermore, a body that doesn’t get enough physical activity can develop diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, all of which are stroke risk factors on their own. 

Just like physical activity, the following is a controllable risk factor for stroke… 

1. Diet

Healthy and unhealthy food background from fruits and vegetables vs fast food, sweets and pastry top view. Diet and detox against calorie and overweight lifestyle concept.
Julia Sudnitskaya/

What we eat shapes our health. Diets high in sugary foods, fatty foods, and high in cholesterol all increase risk for stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and many other serious health conditions. While indulging every now and again is typically fine, consistently eating poorly can have disastrous health outcomes.

If you are concerned about lowering your risk of having a stroke, you should talk with your licensed medical provider.

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