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Risk Factors for Stroke

Who is at risk for stroke?

Knowing your risk for stroke is the first step in preventing stroke. You can change or treat some risk factors, but others you can’t. By having regular medical checkups and knowing your risk, you can focus on what you can change and lower your risk of stroke. The following are risk factors for stroke that are treatable.

  • High blood pressure. This is the single most important risk factor for stroke because it’s the No. 1 cause of stroke.
  • Tobacco use. Don’t smoke cigarettes or use other forms of tobacco. Learn more about quitting tobacco use.
  • Diabetes. Work with your doctor to manage diabetes and reduce other risk factors.
  • High blood cholesterol. If an artery leading to the brain becomes blocked, a stroke can result.
  • Physical inactivity and obesity.  
  • Excessive alcohol intake. Drinking excessively raises blood pressure, and binge drinking can lead to stroke.
  • Illegal drug use. Intravenous drug use carries a high risk of stroke. Cocaine use also has been linked to stroke.
  • Carotid or other artery disease. A carotid artery damaged by a fatty buildup of plaque inside the artery wall may become blocked by a blood clot, causing a stroke.
  • Transient ischemic attacks. These are “mini strokes” that produce strokelike symptoms but no lasting effects. 
  • Atrial fibrillation or other heart disease. In atrial fibrillation the heart’s upper chambers quiver, causing blood to pool and clot.
  • Certain blood disorders. A high red blood cell count makes clots more likely, raising the risk of stroke. Sickle cell anemia increases stroke risk because the “sickled” cells stick to blood vessel walls and may block arteries.