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Diseases & Conditions

Know Your Risk Factors for Stroke

(Also Called 'Know Your Risk Factors for Stroke - Risk Factors')

What are stroke risk factors?

Stroke risk factors are medical conditions or behaviors or traits that make you more likely to develop a stroke. Having one or more risk factors does not mean that you definitely will have a stroke, only that you are more likely to do so.

More than 750 thousand people suffer from stroke in the U.S. each year, but up to 50% of strokes could be prevented. In the case of stroke, many of the risk factors can be treated, modified or controlled. However, some risk factors for stroke cannot be changed.

Controllable risk factors
  • Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the single most important risk factor for stroke. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg or less. The target for blood pressure treatment in adults is to keep the blood pressure at 140/90 or below, or 130/80 or below for high-risk patients.
  • Smoking remains the most important preventable cause of premature death in the country. If you smoke, quit, and if you don't smoke, don't start. Look for smoking cessation resources in your community.
  • Heart disease, especially atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heartbeat), is a significant risk factor for stroke. If you have heart disease, carefully follow your treatment plan.
  • Diabetes mellitus increases stroke risk, especially for strokes due to damage of small blood vessels. A normal HbA1c is 6% or less. The usual target for control is a HbA1c of <6.5% or a fasting blood sugar of 80-120 mg/dl.
  • High cholesterol (also called hyperlipidemia) increases the risk of stroke. Have your cholesterol level checked and control your cholesterol level. Limit the amount of fat and cholesterol you eat. What cholesterol levels are considered to be normal will vary on your risk profile for stroke or heart disease. The target level of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol, is less than 100 mg/dL or less than 70 mg/dL for high-risk patients.
  • Excessive alcohol intake is associated with stroke risk. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink to a maximum of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
  • Being overweight or obese and leading a sedentary lifestyle may increase your risk of developing hypertension and diabetes, two risk factors for stroke. This is particularly true if the waist measures over 35 inches in women or over 40 inches in men.
  • Existing carotid and/or coronary artery disease
Uncontrollable Risk Factors
  • Age: People of all ages, including children, have strokes. However, the risk of stroke increases as we get older.
  • Gender: Stroke is more common in men than in women. However, women account for more than half of all stroke deaths. This is because women are more likely to have a stroke than a heart attack as their first event.
  • Race: African Americans have a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians do. This is partly because they have higher risks of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
  • Family history: Your stroke risk is greater if a parent, grandparent, sister, or brother has had a stroke or if a family member has had a heart attack at an early age.
  • Prior stroke or heart attack: A person who has already had a stroke or heart attack is at much higher risk of having a second stroke.

Your doctor can evaluate your risk for stroke and help you control your risk factors. Regular check-ups are important in detecting problems before they become serious.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 6/24/2014...#13398