Stroke: what are the risk factors?

There are certain attributes that increase the likelihood of having a stroke. These are called risk factors, because they increase the probability of developing a medical condition or disease. 

Some risk factors are known as modifiable, meaning that by making lifestyle adjustments or by starting a medical treatment their influence can be reduced or eliminated. Taking action against the risk factors described below can help reduce the chances of suffering a stroke. 

Stroke: modifiable risk factors

    • High blood pressure: this is the most important risk factor to consider in stroke prevention. The higher the blood pressure, the greater the risk of damaging blood vessels in the brain. Blood pressures of 140/90 or more can triple the risk of stroke. It is important to be aware of these numbers and if diagnosed with hypertension, to follow the medical treatment that has been prescribed.
    • High cholesterol levels: a high level of cholesterol in the blood can lead to an accumulation of plaque along the arterial walls. Over time, this causes narrowing of the arteries and may even block blood flow. In the blood vessels in the brain this narrowing or blocking may lead to a stroke.
    • Smoking: oth firsthand and secondhand smoking can damage the blood vessels and increase the risk of stroke
    • Alcohol: excessive alcohol intake increases the risk of hypertension and therefore, the risk of stroke.
    • Illicit drug use: the use of illicit substances such as cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines or heroin can increase the risk of stroke.
    • Diabetes: having diabetes doubles the risk of stroke.
    • Sedentary behavior: inactivity (less than 4 hours of physical activity per week) increases the risk of stroke.
    • Obesity: obesity is associated with an increased risk for stroke.
    • Poor diet: too much salt intake increases blood pressure and may therefore, increase the risk of having a stroke.
    • Stress and depression: high stress at work or at home, or depression, can double the risk of having a stroke.
    • Atrial fibrillation and other heart conditions: atrial fibrillation, a disorder of the heart’s rhythm, is a common condition which can lead to the formation of blood clots. Having atrial fibrillation triples the risk of stroke. Other heart conditions can also increase the risk.
    • Carotid artery disorders: the carotid arteries provide the brain with the blood it needs. If one of them is damaged, blood flow may become impaired and the risk of stroke increases.
    • Other medical conditions: such as cerebral aneurisms or renal insufficiency may also increase the risk of stroke.

Stroke: nonmodifiable risk factors

The following risk factors increase the risk of stroke but it is not possible to influence them.

    • Aging
    • Being a woman (the lifetime risk of stroke is 1 in 5 for women vs. 1 in 6 for men)
    • A family history of stroke (if someone in your family has suffered a troke)
    • A personal history of stroke (if you have already suffered a stroke).

Understanding if you are at risk of having a stroke is important. Talk to your doctor if you think you might be at risk.



Let’s talk about Risks Factors for Stroke. American Heart Association. 2017. [accessed on 10/1/2018]
O'Donnell MJ et al. Global and regional effects of potentially modifiable risk factors associated with acute stroke in 32 countries (INTERSTROKE): a case-control study. Lancet. 2016 ; 388 (10046) : 761-75.

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