Stroke Risk Factors

Many factors can increase your stroke risk, with or without atrial fibrillation. But, of course, if you have atrial fibrillation, these factors put you at even higher risk of a stroke. These include: 1

  • High blood pressure. High blood pressure, called hypertension, is defined as a systolic (the first number) pressure of 130 or higher or a diastolic (the second number) pressure higher than 80.2 It is a major risk factor for stroke, and numerous studies find that lowering blood pressure is the best way to reduce the risk of stroke. In addition, studies have found that black participants were more likely to have high blood pressure at the start and end of the study than white or Hispanic participants.
  • Diabetes. Diabetes significantly increases the risk of stroke, particularly in people younger than 65. People with diabetes who had one stroke also have a higher risk of another stroke.
  • Cardiovascular (heart) disease. Atrial fibrillation is, of course, a major risk factor for stroke, but so are other cardiovascular conditions. Those include carotid artery disease (narrowing of the arteries in the neck that carry blood to the brain), peripheral artery disease (narrowing of the vessels that carry blood to the arms and legs), coronary heart disease, heart failure, enlarged heart, heart valve disease, or a congenital heart defect.
  • Smoking. People who smoke have two to four times the risk of stroke compared to those who don’t smoke or who have quit for more than 10 years.
  • High cholesterol. High cholesterol appears to be a risk factor in hemorrhagic stroke, in which bleeding occurs in the brain. But the evidence is mixed as to whether it is a significant risk factor for ischemic stroke, which is the more common type of stroke and is caused by a blood clot.
  • Lack of exercise. The more you exercise and the more vigorously you exercise, the lower your risk of stroke.
  • Nutrition. Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables that includes olive oil, nuts, and lean protein like the Mediterranean diet can reduce your risk of stroke.
  • Family history. If there is a history of stroke in your family, then your risk is higher. This makes it even more vital that you follow a lifestyle that reduces your risk of stroke.
  • Kidney disease. It appears that kidney disease can increase the risk of stroke by about 43 percent. The worse the condition of the kidneys, the higher the risk.
  • Age. The older you are, the greater your risk of stroke.
  • Gender. Women over the age of 65 with atrial fibrillation have a significantly higher risk of stroke than men. There is also some evidence that using hormone therapy (estrogen with or without progesterone) can increase the risk of stroke in post-menopausal women. Pregnancy increases the risk of stroke for younger women, particularly if you experience preeclampsia, a condition in which blood pressure rises dangerously high, putting the mother and baby at risk.
  • Sleep quality. If you have a condition called sleep apnea, in which you stop breathing several times during the night, you have a higher risk of stroke and a higher risk of dying from a stroke. In addition, the amount of sleep you get matters, with studies finding that the ideal duration is six to seven hours.
  • Mental health. Depression is associated with a nearly two-fold increased risk of stroke, as well as a higher risk of dying from stroke.

The risk factors above are well-established risk factors with a plethora of evidence to back them up. There are, however, other risk factors.

To learn more about why afib is a problem, see Quality of Life Issues from Afib. To learn more about how to prevent strokes, see Prevent Strokes.

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