A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and food. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die. There are many factors that may contribute to having a stroke. The cause of some strokes is never known. The good news is that strokes can be treated and prevented, and many fewer Americans die of stroke now than even 15 years ago.
A number of risk factors are related to stroke. Stroke risk factors include:
Lifestyle risk factors
- Being overweight or obese
- Physical inactivity
- Heavy or binge drinking
- Use of illicit drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines
- Cigarette smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.
Medically treatable risk factors
- High blood pressure — risk of stroke begins to increase at blood pressure readings higher than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
- High cholesterol — a total cholesterol level above 200 milligrams per deciliter.
- Obstructive sleep apnea.
- Cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, heart defects, heart infection or abnormal heart rhythm.
Other risk factors
- Personal or family history of stroke, heart attack or transient ischemic attack.
- Being age 55 or older.
- Race — African-Americans have higher risk of stroke than do people of other races.
- Gender — Men have a higher risk of stroke than women. Women are usually older when they have strokes, and they are more likely to die of strokes than are men.
The factor with the strongest link to stroke is high blood pressure which more than doubles the risk of a stroke. Talk with your healthcare professional about what may have contributed to your stroke and actions you should take to avoid secondary strokes.