Stroke Risk Factors

Many of the things that increase your stroke risk can be controlled. The diseases that increase risk can be treated. Lifestyle choices such as eating and exercise habits can be changed.

Controllable Stroke Risk Factors

Treatable diseases that increase stroke risk:

  • High blood pressure.
  • Atrial Fibrillation.
  • High Cholesterol.
  • Diabetes.
  • High Blood Pressure (Hyptertension) - Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. If you have high blood pressure, your heart is pumping harder to move blood through the body. This can weaken blood vessels and damage major organs such as the brain. Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to stroke.

If it is elevated, work with your doctor to keep it under control. High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke. Have your blood pressure checked at least once each year – more often if you have a history of high blood pressure. Consult your doctor if the higher number (your systolic blood pressure) is usually about 135 or if the lower number (your diastolic blood pressure) is usually over 85. NSA 2009

Blood Pressure Guidelines

  • A blood pressure reading below 120/80 is considered normal. In general, the lower the blood pressure, the better.
  • High blood pressure is a common condition, affecting 65 million Americans, 1 in 3 adults.
  • High blood pressure increases stroke risk 4-6 times.
  • High blood pressure is the most common cause of stroke.
  • High blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms.

Atrial Fibrillation (AF)

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is caused when the two upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat rapidly and unpredictably, producing an irregular heartbeat. AF raises stroke risk because it allows blood to pool in the heart. When blood pools, it tends to form clots, which can then be carried to the brain, causing a stroke. Long-term untreated AF can also weaken the heart, leading to heart failure.

For more information on Atrial Fibrillation (AF), visit the AF page on

Common AF symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations
  • A sudden pounding, fluttering or racing sensation in the chest, sometimes referred to as "butterflies"
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
Some AF Statistics:
  • AF affects approximately 2.2 million Americans.
  • AF increases stroke risk up to 6 times.
  • AF can increase stroke risk by 500%. NSA 2012
  • About 15% of all people who have a stroke, have AF.
  • AF is most often found in people over the age of 65 and in people who have heart disease or thyroid disorders.

High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the blood that our bodies make on their own, but we also get it from fat in the foods we eat. Certain foods (such as egg yolks, liver or foods fried in animal fat or tropical oils) contain cholesterol. High levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream can clog arteries and cause a stroke or heart attack. It can also increase stroke risk by putting you at greater risk for heart disease - another important stroke risk factor. See a doctor if your total cholesterol level is more than 200.

  • Combined HDL and LDL cholesterol should fall below 200mg/dL.
  • Nearly 107 million American adults have a total blood cholesterol of 200 or higher.


If you are diabetic, follow your doctor’s recommendations carefully to control your diabetes. Having diabetes more than doubles your risk for stroke. Your doctor can prescribe a nutrition program, lifestyle changes and medicine that can help control your diabetes. NSA 2009

  • According to the American Diabetes Association, there are 20.8 million Americans with diabetes.
  • Two out of three people with diabetes die from stroke or heart disease.
  • Diabetes increases stroke risk 2-4 times. Consider reversing order to list risk before death.

Lifestyle choices that increase stroke risk

Tobacco Use/Smoking

Among other things, smoking damages blood vessels, speeds up the clogging of arteries, raises blood pressure and makes the heart work harder. Smoking doubles the risk of stroke. Smoking women have special concerns. If a woman smokes, has a history of migraines, and takes oral contraceptives, her stroke risk is increased as much as 34 times.

Alcohol Use

Drinking lots of alcohol has been linked to stroke in some studies. Drinking more than 2 drinks per day may increase stroke risk by 50%.

Obesity/Excessive Weight

Excess weight puts a strain on the entire circulatory system. It also makes people more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes - of which can increase your risk for stroke.

Source: National Stroke Association,