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Risk Factors for Stroke

Risk factors are those things that increase your chance of having a certain disease, like a stroke. Some risk factors can't be changed, like your sex or age. Some risk factors can be changed, like overweight or lack of exercise. 

Risk factors in women and men

There are differences between stroke risk factors in men and women. Some stroke risk factors:

  • Only affect women. Examples are pregnancy or having diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes)

  • Occur in both men and women, but are more likely to lead to stroke in women. Examples are diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension).

  • Affect both men and women in about the same way. Examples are your age and smoking.

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High blood pressure, or hypertension, directly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Blood pressure can be controlled with a healthy diet, exercise and, if necessary, medication.

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Women-only risk factors for stroke

Some risk factors can only occur if you are a woman. They are:

  • Being pregnant

  • Preeclampsia, a condition with high blood pressure when you are pregnant

  • Gestational diabetes

  • Taking birth control pills

  • Taking hormone replacement after menopause

  • Changing hormone levels

  • Stroke risk factors in women and men

These risk factors occur in both women and men, but are more likely to increase the risk of stroke in women:

  • Migraine headache with aura, a severe headache with certain symptoms just before the headache

  • Atrial fibrillation, a fast, irregular heartbeat

  • Diabetes mellitus

  • High blood pressure

  • Depression

  • Stress

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Diabetes is a serious disease that can lead to a number of complications. The good news is that diabetes can be managed—and many of its complications can be prevented—with proper self-care and treatment. If you smoke, stop. If you’re overweight, eat less and exercise. Work with your doctor to control your blood pressure and cholesterol.

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Stroke risk factors in women and men

These risk factors increase the risk of stroke in both women and men:

  • Being inactive

  • Older age

  • Previous heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease

  • Being overweight

  • Unhealthy diet (for example, high in fat, cholesterol, and sugar; low in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and olive oil)

  • Smoking

  • Metabolic syndrome, a group of findings and lab test results that increase the chance of stroke, heart attack, and diabetes

The abnormal lab results and findings include blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides, blood pressure, and overweight

Talk with your health care provider about your risk factors and what you can do to lower your risk of stroke.

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LDL (“bad” cholesterol) contributes to the formation of plaque buildup in the arteries. HDL (“good” cholesterol) helps prevent the fatty buildup and formation of plaque. To keep your LDL low and your HDL high, don’t smoke, avoid saturated fats and excess calories, get exercise, and maintain a healthy weight. Medications also may be prescribed if necessary.

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