Heart & Vascular Services
Vascular Disease Risk Factors
Stroke Risk Factors and Prevention
When your blood does not flow freely through your vascular system you are a greater risk for developing blood clots which can cause stroke. Anyone of any age, race or gender can have a stroke but there are certain factors that can increase your risk of having a stroke. Stroke risk factors can be classified as either controllable or uncontrollable. Uncontrollable risk factors – those things that you cannot change – include:
- age – your risk for stroke increases over age 55
- gender – men are at greater risk for stroke than women
- race – African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian/Pacific Islanders are at higher risk for stroke
- family history – if a member of your immediate or extended family have suffered a stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack) you are put at greater risk for also having a stroke
Controllable risk factors can be divided into medical and lifestyle risk factors. Let’s look at both factors and what steps you can take in each area to improve your health in both areas.
- Medical Risk Factors
- Hypertension. Untreated high blood pressure is a major stroke risk factor. Check your blood pressure at least twice yearly. You can get your blood pressure checked at your Mercy cardiologist’s office, at local health fairs, and many drug stores or grocery stores that have automatic blood pressure machines.
- Diabetes. If you do not properly manage your diabetes you are nearly 4 times more likely to have a stroke. Your doctor can do a simple fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test to see if you have a high blood sugar level. If you are diabetic your doctor will tell you if you can control it through exercise, dietary changes, and weight loss. You may require medication or daily insulin shots. It is important to follow your doctor’s prescribed regimen and tightly control your blood glucose levels to maintain vascular health.
- Atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition caused by the gradual buildup of fatty deposits in the walls of your arteries. The buildup, called plaque, can block the flow of blood within your body and put you at greater risk for stroke. Because atherosclerosis has no symptoms you need to be aware for your risks, including high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and diabetes. If you are diagnosed with atherosclerosis your doctor may prescribe medications or lifestyle changes including a healthier diet and exercise regimen.
- High cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty acid that can clog your arteries and cause a stroke. You should get your cholesterol levels checked every 5 years (more often if you have a family history of heart disease or additional risk factors for stroke). Sign up for our simple e-mail health screening reminders.
- Atrial fibrillation. Atrial fib is an abnormal heartbeat that can cause your blood to not flow freely but rather pool and form a clot. Blood clots are a common cause of stroke. The American Stroke Association has found that atrial fib increases your risk for ischemic stroke by 500%. If you or your family members have a history of heart problems or if you notice abnormal heartbeat patterns contact your Mercy cardiologist or physician for an exam.
- Lifestyle Risk Factors
- Smoking. Smoking doubles your risk of stroke. It robs your body of needed oxygen, hardens and narrows your arteries and increases your blood pressure. By stopping you rapidly reduce your likelihood of having a stroke. Check our calender for Smoking Cessation Classes.
- Alcohol use. Limiting your intake of alcohol to no more than two drinks per day has been proven to reduce your likelihood of hemorrhagic stroke.
- Sedentary lifestyle. By exercising at a moderately intense heart rate for at least 30 minutes 3-5 times weekly you will feel better, lose weight, and reduce your risk for stroke. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program and check out our schedule of exercise and wellness classes.
- Obesity. Carrying excess weight increases the possibility of developing high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels and diabetes which are significant risk factors for stroke. Gradually incorporating a low-sodium, low-fat diet rich in lean proteins, vegetables, and fruits can help you lose weight and reduce your risk for stroke. Use our online tools to calculate your body mass index (BMI) and learn your ideal weight. Visit Mercy Weight Management Center for more information on weight loss.