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Stroke Risk Factors

Stroke RiskThere are two primary types of risk factors for stroke: those that are controllable and those that are not.

Uncontrollable stroke risk factors include:

  • Age: two-thirds of all strokes happen to people over age 65
  • Sex: men have a slightly higher stroke risk than females
  • Race: African-Americans have a higher stroke risk than most other racial groups
  • Family History: your risk is higher if you have a family history of stroke
  • Diabetes: people with diabetes have a higher stroke risk

Controllable stroke risk factors, which are medically treatable, include the following:

  • High blood pressure, or hypertension, increases stroke risk four to six times. It is the single most important controllable risk factor. 
  • Irregular heartbeats and other heart diseases, such as atrial fibrillation, can increase stroke risk up to six times.
  • High cholesterol can directly and indirectly increase stroke risk by clogging blood vessels. People with high cholesterol are also at greater risk for coronary artery disease, another important stroke risk factor. 
  • Sleep disordered breathing, such as sleep apnea, is a major cardiovascular and stroke risk factor. This condition increases blood pressure rates, which may cause stroke or heart attack. 
  • People who have a personal history of stroke. If you have already had a stroke, or warning symptoms of stroke, you are at risk for having another. After suffering a stroke, men have a 42 percent chance of recurrent stroke, and women a 24 percent chance, within five years. Also, 35 percent of those who experience warning symptoms of stroke will have a stroke within five years, if not treated.
  • Certain lifestyle choices can increase your risk for stroke. These include smoking, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol consumption, excess weight, recreational drug use, and stress. However, with lifestyle changes or medical treatment, you can modify these risk factors and lower your risk for stroke. 

The National Stroke Association also has a number of fact sheets on Risk Factors for Stroke.

Contact Information

Division of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases
Department of Neurology
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

Act F-A-S-T

How can you tell if you or someone else is having a stroke? Remember to Act F-A-S-T to save brain tissue. Watch for these stroke signs and call 9-1-1 immediately: