Risk Factors for Stroke

Each year, almost 800,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke. The majority could have avoided stroke with lifestyle changes and preventive care. Some things, like age and family history, can’t be controlled, but there are other risk factors you can impact.

Stroke risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure. Your target should be 120/80. Take and record your blood pressure twice a day for a week. If you have two or more readings of 150/90 or higher, you should talk to your doctor. Diet, exercise and medications can help keep your blood pressure in check.
  • Diabetes. With regular checkups, your doctor will normally order a test to check your blood glucose levels. If this and other tests show you have diabetes or prediabetes, your Mercy doctor and diabetic educator will help you manage your diabetes through diet, exercise and, possibly, medication.
  • High cholesterol. Persistent high cholesterol can not only lead to a heart attack, but a stroke as well. Have your cholesterol level checked regularly. If it’s high, your doctor may prescribe medication to help reduce it.
  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib). If you’re diagnosed with this abnormal heart rhythm, you’ll be referred to a cardiologist for ongoing care. You may need to take a blood thinner (anticoagulant) to help control your heart rate.
  • Carotid artery stenosis. This is the narrowing of arteries on either side of the neck that carry blood to the head, face and brain. The narrowing is usually due to a buildup of plaque that can block the artery and lead to a stroke. Your doctor will order tests and treatments if carotid artery stenosis is suspected.
  • Sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder that disrupts your breathing while sleeping. It can lead to high blood pressure, AFib, heart failure and diabetes. If you’re excessively tired during the day or your partner notices your breathing is irregular while sleeping, talk with your doctor.
  • Smoking. Many diseases like heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and respiratory problems are linked to smoking. Stopping smoking greatly reduces your risk of these diseases.
  • Inactive lifestyle. Being inactive and overweight can greatly increase your risk of stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease. Try increasing your activity by 30 minutes a day.
  • Excessive alcohol use. Heavy drinking is certainly hazardous to your health, but even moderate alcohol consumption can lead to health problems. For example, higher blood pressure occurs in women who average more than one drink per day, and in men who average more than two drinks per day.

The best treatment for stroke is prevention. Talk to your Mercy doctor about what actions you can take to reduce your risk of stroke, including healthy lifestyle changes. They may help you feel better and live longer.