Understanding Stroke Risk


Stroke Risk Factors

  • Age — The chance of having a stroke approximately doubles for each decade of life after age 55. While stroke is common among the elderly, a lot of people under 65 also have strokes.
  • Heredity (family history) — Your stroke risk may be greater if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke. Some strokes may be symptoms of genetic disorders like CADASIL (Cerebral Autosomal Dominant Arteriopathy with Sub-cortical Infarcts and Leukoencephalopathy), which is caused by a gene mutation that leads to damage of blood vessel walls in the brain, blocking blood flow. Most individuals with CADASIL have a family history of the disorder — each child of a CADASIL parent has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease. Visit the NINDS website (opens in new window) or read the AHA/ASA scientific statement (opens in new window) on this topic for more details about CADASIL.
  • Race — African-Americans (opens in new window) have a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians do. This is partly because blacks have higher risks of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
  • Sex (gender) — Each year, women have more strokes than men, and stroke kills more women than men. Use of birth control pills, pregnancy, history of preeclampsia/eclampsia or gestational diabetes, oral contraceptive use, and smoking, and post-menopausal hormone therapy may pose special stroke risks for women. Be sure to discuss your specific risks with your doctor.
  • Prior stroke, TIA or heart attack — The risk of stroke for someone who has already had one is many times that of a person who has not. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are "warning strokes" that produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. TIAs are strong predictors of stroke. A person who's had one or more TIAs is almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who hasn't. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce your risk of a major stroke. TIA should be considered a medical emergency and followed up immediately with a healthcare professional. If you've had a heart attack, you're at higher risk of having a stroke, too.



This content was last reviewed on 10/23/2012.


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