Stroke Risk Factors
There are many factors that can increase your stroke risk, with or without atrial fibrillation, but here are some of the major ones: 1
- High blood pressure — the most important risk factor for stroke.
- Smoking — also extremely important as smoking reduces the oxygen in the blood and damages the heart and blood vessels, making it easier for blood clots to form.
- Diabetes — especially when accompanied by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and overweight.
- Heart diseases — atrial fibrillation is a major risk factor for stroke, as are other heart diseases, such as carotid artery disease (narrowing of the arteries in the neck that carry blood to the brain), peripheral artery disease (narrowing of the vessels carrying blood to the legs and arms), coronary heart disease, heart failure, an enlarged heart, heart valve disease, or a congenital heart defect. If you have several of these, your stroke risk is greatly increased.
- Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs) — as a warning stroke, a TIA is an indicator that without treatment, a major stroke may be imminent.
- Blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia.
- High cholesterol — leads to narrowing of the arteries.
- Obesity and lack of exercise — increases the risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol, along with diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
- Excessive alcohol consumption — having more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men can increase the blood pressure and increase stroke risk and heart failure risk.
- Illegal drugs — some have been linked to strokes.
- Age — risk increases as we get older, and doubles every decade after the age of 55.
- Gender — while stroke is most common in men, women are at higher risk of death from it, accounting for well over half of stroke deaths. For women, pregnancy, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), or menopause greatly increase the risk, especially when combined with other risk factors.
- Stress — only recently has stress been recognized as a risk factor for both heart disease and stroke, but we're starting to understand that chronic stress may lead to other risk factors, such as overweight, lack of exercise, smoking, or other bad habits.