Up to 80 percent of all strokes could be prevented. Stroke can happen to any person, at any time, and at any age. Generally, however, the risk goes up as you get older – and it doubles every decade after age 55. Strokes often run in families, as relatives may share the tendency to develop risk factors including high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes. Women are slightly less likely to have a stroke than men, although when they do, they tend to have them at a later age – making a full recovery more unlikely and the risk of death higher. Race also affects the likelihood of stroke, with African-Americans and Hispanic Americans far more likely to experience a stroke than Caucasians. While a stroke may have many causes, there are some specific factors that contribute to more than 90% of all strokes.
What are the Causes and Risk Factors for Stroke?
- High Blood Pressure
Having high blood pressure, or hypertension, poses the highest risk for a stroke. People who have high blood pressure are twice as likely to suffer from a stroke than those who do not, because high blood pressure can damage arteries throughout the body, increasing the likelihood of clogging and weakening which can lead to a stroke. This makes managing blood pressure key to reducing the chances of a stroke.
- Chronic Stress
Research shows that chronic stress, particularly in older adults, increases a person’s risk of stroke by as much as 400%. And those who tend to be impatient, quick-tempered, aggressive, or generally hostile – Type A personality traits – are up to twice as likely to suffer from a stroke than people who are more relaxed. Reducing and managing your stress is a key factor in reducing your risk of stroke.
Smoking or chewing tobacco significantly raises your risk of a stroke. Nicotine causes your blood pressure to rise. Cigarette smoke also causes fatty buildups in the major neck arteries, where many strokes occur, and thickens the blood, making it more likely to clot and block an artery. Even secondhand smoke can significantly increase your risk of stroke. Deciding to quit smoking is an important way to reduce the risk of stroke.
- Alcohol Use
Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to a higher risk of having a stroke. Alcohol contributes to multiple medical problems that are risk factors for stroke, including high blood pressure and diabetes. Consuming alcohol in moderation is less concerning as long as it remains within healthy limits.
Obesity is one of the major causes of stroke, particularly in younger adults. In the US, obesity rates have hit an all-time high with more than half of adults and almost one out of six children either overweight or obese. This causes inflammation from the excess fatty tissue, which can impact blood flow, increasing the risk of blockage. Those who are obese are also more likely to suffer from sleep apnea, another risk factor for stroke, as well as high blood pressure and heart disease.
- High Cholesterol
High levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol is associated with a higher risk of stroke. This type of cholesterol can build up on artery walls, causing plaques that increase the risk of developing a stroke. High cholesterol also raises your risk of heart disease, another risk factor for stroke. Working to lower your cholesterol levels is an important step in reducing your risk of stroke.
- Heart Disease
Cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, heart defects, heart infection, or abnormal heart rhythm is a major cause a of strokes, particularly among the elderly. Clogged arteries from fatty deposits, hardened arteries, or atrial fibrillation are all known to increase the risk of stroke. In general, those who have suffered a heart attack or have coronary heart disease run twice the risk of having a stroke.
People who have diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure and be overweight – both of which are major risk factors for stroke. Diabetes also damages blood vessels, making a stroke more likely. And suffering a stroke while blood sugar levels are high increases the injury to the brain exponentially. If you do have diabetes, be sure to control your blood sugar levels.
Research into the causes and risk factors for stroke continues. In the meantime, the best thing you can do is reduce your risk by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy BMI (body mass index), and controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol. Work to reduce stress or take part in stress-reducing strategies such as yoga and meditation. If you smoke, quit, and keep your alcohol intake to one drink per day. Taking control of your health will have major benefits for your overall quality of life – in addition to decreasing your risk of experiencing a stroke.