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Stroke Prevention and Risk Factors

Up to 80% of strokes can be prevented. There are risk factors that are beyond your control that can increase your risk for stroke such as age, sex, and ethnicity. But there are many risk factors that can be changed such as high blood pressure, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, lack of exercise, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, physical activity, and obesity.

Stroke risk factors you can control, treat, and improve

Keep your stroke risks low with regular checkups and treatment for these conditions if you have them.

Learn more about Risk Factors You Can Control

Stroke risk factors you cannot control

You can't control some risk factors, but knowing that they exist may help motivate you to work harder on the ones you can change.

  • Age: The risk of stroke increases with age, especially after the age of 55. The incidence of stroke doubles for each decade of life after age 55.

  • Gender: Men have a slightly higher risk of stroke than women, although women are more likely to die from stroke.

  • Ethnicity: Certain ethnic groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian/Pacific Islanders, have a higher risk of stroke.

  • Family History: Individuals with a family history of stroke are at increased risk themselves.

Additional factors that may be linked to higher stroke risks
  • An increase in blood clot formation is a complication of COVID-19 that can result in a stroke. Read more COVID-19 resources.

  • Strokes are more common in Southeastern states. Check out your state and consider how it supports healthy habits.

  • There is a three-year life expectancy gap between rural and urban populations. Rates of physical inactivity, obesity, and tobacco use are all higher in rural areas.

  • Strokes may be more common among those with lower incomes. Access to quality food, health care, and other social support is often limited for lower-income people. Support quality health care for all.

  • Alcohol abuse can lead to medical complications, including stroke. The American Heart Association recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for non-pregnant women. Pregnant women should not drink alcohol.

  • Use of illegal and highly addictive substances, including cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines have been associated with an increased risk of stroke. These substances can speed up the heartbeat and raise blood pressure, causing damage to the blood vessels in the brain, ultimately leading to a stroke.

  • Misusing prescription drugs, especially those used for pain relief (oxycodone, fentanyl), or to relax (like sedatives), can also be a risk. When used misused, these drugs can slow down breathing and reduce the amount of oxygen the brain needs to function properly.

Learn about Additional Factors

Risk factors that can be changed, treated, or controlled
  • High blood pressure. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and the most important controllable risk factor for stroke. Know your blood pressure and have it checked at least once every two years. If it's high, talk to your doctor about how to manage it.

  • Smoking/tobacco use. Smoking damages blood vessel walls, speeds up the clogging of arteries, raises blood pressure and makes the heart work harder. Smoking doubles the risk of stroke. Second-hand smoke is just as dangerous so avoid exposure.

  • Diabetes. People with diabetes are four times more likely to have a stroke than are people who do not have the disease, mainly because many people with diabetes have health problems that are also stroke risk factors. Work with your doctor to manage diabetes.

  • Carotid or other artery disease. The carotid arteries in your neck supply most of the blood to your brain. A carotid artery damaged by a fatty build up of plaque inside the artery wall may become blocked by a blood clot, causing a stroke.

  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib). This is caused when the two upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat rapidly and unpredictably, producing an irregular heartbeat. AFib raises stroke risk because it allows blood to pool in the heart and form clots which can be carried to the brain. FAQs about AFib (PDF)

  • Alcohol use. Drinking large amounts of alcohol may increase your risk for stroke.

  • Illegal drug use.

  • Other heart disease.

  • High blood cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the blood that the human body makes on its own but it also comes from fat in foods. High levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream can clog arteries and cause a stroke or heart attack.

  • Poor diet.

  • Physical inactivity and obesity.