Many risk factors for stroke are within our control, and that’s good news. A worldwide study identified 10 factors that accounted for 88% of the risk of strokes for all ages, which suggests that stroke is to a large degree preventable. These factors include hypertension (high blood pressure), smoking, obesity, diet, physical activity, diabetes, alcohol, stress and depression, cardiac issues, and elevated cholesterol. If any of these factors are present in your life, talk to your doctor about making healthy adjustments.
Those factors that we can control are called modifiable; those that we can’t control are non-modifiable, which include age, family history, race, gender, and prior stroke, TIA, or heart attack. But many modifiable factors may increase the risk of stroke in people with non-modifiable factors.
The most powerful factor that increases the risk of stroke is age. Approximately 75% of all strokes are in people over age 65, and your risk for stroke increases every 10 years after the age of 55. Part of this is due to the normal aging process: changes in the brain’s vasculature and a narrowing and hardening of arteries. This leaves the arteries more susceptible to atherosclerosis – being clogged with fatty material that can lead to ischemic stroke.
But many of the modifiable risk factors are found more often in older populations. In fact, those who have strokes generally have two or more of these comorbidities. Therefore, while age may not be controllable, some of the risk factors of stroke that are often found in the older population are.
If a close relative has had a stroke – parent, grandparent, or sibling, especially prior to age 65 – you may be at greater risk. Your family may have a genetic disorder, or your family may be predisposed to hypertension, the number one controllable factor that increases the risk of stroke. When there is a family disposition, controlling high blood pressure can be more challenging, but it’s critically important to do. The good news, though, is that only 20% of cardiovascular disease – which includes both strokes and heart problems – is caused by genetics.
Race and gender
Women have more strokes than men, primarily because women generally live longer than men and therefore the risk factor of age is stronger. Other factors that increase a woman’s risk include a history of pregnancy with preeclampsia/eclampsia or gestational diabetes, contraceptive use especially when combined with smoking, and post-menopausal hormone therapy. Some of these factors are modifiable.
African Americans have a much higher risk of stroke and, sadly, a higher death rate. This is partly due to a greater frequency of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity among the Black population. There are also socioeconomic factors that are difficult to modify and issues with access to healthcare that increase the risk among the African American population. Again, some of these factors are modifiable.
History of prior stroke, TIA, or heart attack
There is a 25-35% risk of a second stroke in the first 4-5 years and a 40-45% risk more than five years after the first stroke. A person who has had a transient ischemic attack (TIA) is almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and gender who has not had a TIA.
Since the risk factors for stroke and heart attack are similar, those who have a stroke are more likely to have a heart attack later, and those who have a heart attack are more likely to have a stroke later.
What you can do
While concern for a stroke is reasonable, especially if you’ve already had one, anxiety is not healthy. People will often develop habits to check themselves to make sure they aren’t having a stroke, which can become almost compulsive. It would be better to put some early warning practices into place and make whatever modifiable changes you can to decrease your risk.
Follow the advice of your physician to change your diet, increase activity if you are able, and take steps to control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars. Make arrangements with friends and family to help you, especially where lifestyle changes may be difficult. If you smoke, try to find a friend who also smokes to quit along with you. If you have to change your diet, make the change with your family and find fun recipes that you all enjoy that are heart-healthy and brain-healthy.
Talk to your doctor about adding the Neuralert stroke monitor system to your stroke prevention plan. We at Neuralert provide those at risk of stroke with an early warning system and peace of mind so that they can stop focusing on fear and focus on healing and health. Our system consists of wristbands that look like a smartwatch and are fitted with state-of-the-art AI technology. This technology monitors arm movement and alerts your medical team quickly if there are any signs of stroke.
Quick medical care can dramatically decrease the devastating effects of an undiagnosed stroke. Our stroke monitor system provides users with the confidence that they are being monitored by a medical team while at home or out and about, and even while they sleep. Ask your doctor about Neuralert and partner with medical professionals to ensure that symptoms of stroke can be detected ASAP.