The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association reports that stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in the United States. On average, someone in the US suffers a stroke every 40 seconds and nearly 795,000 people suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year.
There are some risk factors out of a person’s control – including age, family history of heart disease or strokes, and gender. Women are more likely than men to suffer a stroke and often do so later in life. African Americans are at a much higher risk of dying from stroke, likely due to a greater prevalence of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
If you’ve had a previous stroke or heart attack, your risk of a second stroke increases. Individuals who have experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA), often called a mini stroke, are almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same sex and age who have not experienced these symptoms. Approximately 15% of patients who experience a transient ischemic attack, will suffer a stroke within the next 90 days..
Although a stroke often seems unexpected, there are key risk factors that make a stroke more likely. The following risk factors for stroke can be modified, treated or managed medically.
Smoking makes an individual four times more likely to die of heart attack or stroke. It damages the blood vessels leading to your heart, and even secondhand smoke makes those around you 30% more likely to suffer from heart disease. Cutting back on the amount of nicotine you consume can improve your blood circulation and reduce the health risks associated with the habit. Better yet, quitting altogether gives your heart and blood vessels an opportunity to repair themselves! If you’re ready to quit, learn more about CHI Memorial’s options for in person and virtual Freedom from Smoking class, developed by the American lung Association. Learn more
High blood pressure and cholesterol
Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends your blood pressure be less than 130/80. Why does your blood pressure matter? High blood pressure gradually increases the pressure of blood flowing through all the arteries in your body, damaging or narrowing your arteries and ultimately limiting blood flow. Uncontrolled hypertension weakens your brain’s blood vessels, causing them to rupture or leak. This is commonly known as a stroke.
Individuals with a total cholesterol level of 240 mg/dL or higher are at increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Uncontrolled cholesterol levels can lead to the development of fatty deposits in the blood vessels, which can make it difficult for blood to freely flow through the arteries. If these deposits break off suddenly, they can form a clot that causes a heart attack or stroke.
The link between heart disease and stroke is significant. Individuals with coronary heart disease, angina or who have had a heart attack due to atherosclerosis are at two times the risk of having a stroke. Several other types of heart disease including atrial fibrillation, heart failure, heart valve disease and some congenital heart defects can also increase a person’s risk. Many of these health conditions are related, and it’s important for you to work closely with your healthcare provider to address and manage these individual risks.
Individuals with carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease or other conditions caused by atherosclerosis, or the hardening and narrowing of the arteries, are at an increased risk of stroke. This narrowing is due to a buildup of plaque on the artery walls, causing a decrease in blood flow. Like other conditions that cause hardening and narrowing of the arteries, treatment options for carotid artery stenosis include surgery, blood thinning medications, medicine and diet changes to lower your cholesterol and blood pressure and routine screening by your medical team.
Diabetes is an independent risk factor for stroke that affects more than 30 million Americans. This condition results from too much sugar in the blood and is usually related to being overweight. When you have type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, your body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. One of the most difficult aspects of diabetes control tends to be compliance with medications and a general misunderstanding of how diet choices are leading to uncontrolled diabetes. In addition to increased stroke risk, diabetes can result in unpleasant symptoms and severe complications for your heart and blood vessels, kidneys, nerves, GI tract, and your eyes.
What you eat has an impact on your overall stroke risk. Diets high in saturated and trans fats can raise blood cholesterol levels, and high amounts of sodium can increase blood pressure. Trans fats are a type of artificial fat used to add a desirable texture and taste to processed foods, such as frozen pizzas, cookies and margarines. Although tastier, trans fat consumption leads to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and clogged arteries.
By decreasing the amount of trans fat you consume, you are actively improving your body’s blood flow and lowering dietary risks to your heart’s health. Eating a healthy, balanced diet – including a variety of fruits, vegetables, protein and starchy foods – can help you maintain a healthy weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and keep diabetes under control.