A stroke cuts off the brain’s most precious commodity—blood. Starved of this oxygen-rich nourishment, brain cells die. As these cells are lost, with them go critical abilities like speech and movement.
If there is any upside to this dire situation, it is that about 90 percent of stroke risks are under your control, according to the second phase of a large, international study published in August 2016 in The Lancet. Researchers from 32 countries identified 10 modifiable risk factors and the percentage of strokes attributable to them (some people have more than one risk factor):
1. High blood pressure (48 percent)
2. Physical inactivity (36 percent)
3. Abnormal lipid levels (specifically apolipoproteins, proteins that bind to blood fats and are considered a better predictor of stroke than total cholesterol) (27 percent)
4. Poor diet (23 percent)
5. Abdominal obesity (19 percent)
6. Psychosocial disorders (including stress and depression) (17 percent)
7. Smoking (12 percent)
8. Heart problems (9 percent)
9. Alcohol use (6 percent)
10. Diabetes (4 percent)
“Although we still don’t know exactly to what extent each of these factors contributes to stroke risk, they provide a strong foundation for preventive efforts,” says James L. Weiss, M.D., professor of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “And, we know that stroke is highly preventable in people of every gender and age.”
The risk factors apply to the two basic types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. In an ischemic stroke, blockage of blood flow to the brain causes damage to neurons. In a hemorrhagic stroke, the damage is due to bleeding in the brain.
Having some of these same risk factors before a first stroke can make stroke survivors more vulnerable to having a second or third one within five years, finds a report in the August 2016 issue of Stroke. A year after recovery, first-time stroke survivors with prestroke risk factors were three times more likely to have another stroke than those who never had one. They were also twice as likely to experience dementia than people who never had a stroke.
4 factors you can’t change
Some risk factors are beyond your control. These nonmodifiable stroke risks include:
1. Your age. The years take a toll on your blood vessels. After age 55, the risk of a stroke doubles with each decade.
2. Your gender. Women are more likely than men to have a stroke.
3. Your race. African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to have a stroke, and to die from one, than whites.
4. Your genes. If one or both of your parents had a stroke, the odds increase that you’ll follow the same path.
Read more about how atrial fibrillation may affect your stroke risk.