Evaluating the risk for stroke is based on heredity, natural processes and lifestyle. Many risk factors for stroke can be changed or managed, while others that relate to heredity or natural processes cannot be changed.
Controllable Risk Factors
Risk factors for stroke that can be changed, treated or medically managed:
- High blood pressure: the most important controllable risk factor for stroke is controlling high blood pressure.
Heart disease: the second most important risk factor for stroke; the major cause of death among survivors of stroke.
- Diabetes: strongly linked with high blood pressure and, although diabetes is a treatable condition, increases a person's risk for stroke.
- Cigarette smoking: doubles a person's risk of having a stroke.
- History of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs): a "warning stroke" or "mini-stroke" that produces stroke-like symptoms but does not cause lasting damage. A person who has had one or more TIAs is almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who has not had a TIA. Learn more about TIAs »
- High red blood cell count: a moderate increase in the number of red blood cells thickens the blood and makes clots more likely, thus increasing the risk for stroke.
- High blood cholesterol and lipid: high blood cholesterol and lipids increase the risk for stroke.
- Lack of exercise, physical inactivity: lack of exercise and physical inactivity increases the risk for stroke.
- Obesity: excess weight increases the risk for stroke.
- Drug abuse: intravenous drug abuse carries a high risk of stroke from cerebral embolisms (blood clots). Cocaine use has been closely related to strokes, heart attacks and a variety of other cardiovascular complications. Some of them, even among first-time cocaine users, have been fatal.
- Excessive alcohol use: more than two drinks per day raises blood pressure; binge drinking can lead to stroke.
Non-controllable Risk Factors
Risk factors for stroke that cannot be changed:
Age: for each decade of life after age 55, the chance of having a stroke more than doubles.
- Race: African-Americans have a much higher risk of death and disability from a stroke than Caucasians, in part because the African-American population has a greater incidence of high blood pressure.
- History of prior stroke: the risk of stroke for someone who has already had one is many times greater than that of a person who has not had a stroke.
- Family history of stroke: the chance of stroke is greater in people who have a family history of stroke.
- Season, geographic climate and temperature: stroke occurs more frequently during periods of extreme hot or cold temperatures. Also, individuals who live in a region where temperatures are at a constant extreme are more likely to have a stroke.