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Stroke Prevention - Risk Factors

Stroke is one of the most preventable of all life-threatening health problems. There are two groups of risk factors for stroke that are controllable. These are treatable medical disorders and personal lifestyle factors.  Some factors are not controllable. It is important to remember that having one or more uncontrollable stroke risk factors DOES NOT MAKE A PERSON FATED TO HAVE A STROKE. With proper attention to controllable stroke risk factors, the impact of uncontrollable factors can be greatly reduced.

1.  Uncontrollable Stroke Risk Factors

A.  Age. The chances of having a stroke go up with age. Two-thirds of all strokes happen to people over age 65. Stroke risk doubles with each decade past age 55.

B.  Gender. Males have a slightly higher stroke risk than females. But, because women in the United States live longer than men, more stroke survivors over age 65 are women.

C.  Race. African-Americans have a higher stroke risk than most other racial groups.

D.  Family History of Stroke. Risk is higher for people with a family history of stroke.

E.  Personal History of Diabetes. People with diabetes have a higher stroke risk. This may be due to circulation problems that diabetes can cause. In addition, brain damage may be more severe and extensive if blood sugar is high when a stroke happens. Treating diabetes may delay the onset of complications that increase stroke risk. However, even if diabetics are on medication and have blood sugar under control, they may still have an increased stroke risk simply because they have diabetes.

2.  Treatable Medical Disorders

A.  High Blood Pressure. Having high blood pressure, or hypertension, increases stroke risk four to six times. It is the single most important controllable stroke risk factor. High blood pressure is often called "the silent killer" because people can have it a nd not realize it, since it often has no symptoms. Hypertension is a common condition, affecting approximately 50 million Americans, or one-third of the adult population. Blood pressure is high if it is consistently more than 140/90. Between 40 and 90 percent of all stroke patients had high blood pressure before their stroke. Hypertension puts stress on blood vessel walls and can lead to strokes from blood clots or hemorrhage.

B.  Heart Disease. Atrial fibrillation and other heart diseases. Heart disease such as atrial fibrillation increases stroke risk up to six times. About 15 percent of all people who have a stroke have a heart disease called atrial fibrillation, or AF, which affects more than 1 million Americans. AF is caused when the atria (the two upper chambers of the heart) 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.

Normally, all four chambers of the heart beat in the same rhythm somewhere between 60 and 100 times every minute. In someone who has AF, the left atrium may beat as many as 400 times a minute. If left untreated, AF can increase stroke risk four to six times. Long-term untreated AF can also weaken the heart, leading to potential heart failure. The prevalence of AF increases with age. AF is found most often in people over age 65 and in people who have heart disease or thyroid disorders. Among people age 50 to 59, AF is linked to 6.7 percent of all strokes. By ages 80-89, AF is responsible for 36.2 percent of all strokes.

C.  Coronary Heart Disease & High Cholesterol. High cholesterol can directly and indirectly increase stroke risk by clogging blood vessels and putting people at greater risk of coronary heart disease, another important stroke risk factor. A cholesterol level of more than 200 is considered "high." 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 blood stream can lead to the buildup of plaque on the inside of arteries, which can clog arteries and cause heart or brain attack.

D.  Personal History of Stroke. People who have already had a stroke are at risk for having another. After suffering a stroke, men have a 42 percent chance of recurrent stroke within five years, and women have a 24 percent chance of having another stroke.

3.  Personal Lifestyle Factors

A.  Smoking. Smoking doubles stroke risk. Smoking damages blood vessel walls, speeds up the clogging of arteries by deposits, raises blood pressure and makes the heart work harder.

A.  Alcohol. Excessive consumption of alcohol is associated with stroke in a small number of research studies. Its specific role in stroke has not yet been determined or proven. Recent studies have also suggested that modest alcohol consumption (one 4 oz. glass of wine or the alcohol equivalent) may protect against stroke by raising levels of a naturally occurring "clot-buster" in the blood.

A.  Weight. Excess weight puts a strain on the entire circulatory system. It also makes people more likely to have other stroke risk factors such as high cholesterol, high.

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