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A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to have a stroke without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of having a stroke. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for stroke include:

  • Poor diet—A diet that is high in trans fat, saturated fat, and low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber increases your risk of having a stroke.
  • Smoking —Smokers are at higher risk of stroke than people who do not smoke. This is one of the greatest modifiable risk factors for stroke.
  • Lack of physical activity—People who do not get moderate exercise regularly are at increased risk of having a stroke.
  • Drug use —Use of drugs, particularly cocaine and amphetamines, increases your risk for stroke.
  • Conditions—The following conditions increase your risk of having a stroke:
  • Age—Your risk of having a stroke increases as you age. Risk for stroke after a heart attack has been shown to be elevated for people over age 75.
  • Gender—Earlier in life, men are at higher risk of stroke than women. But, women’s risk catches up to men’s risk about 10 years after menopause.
  • Genetic factors—Certain inherited traits may put a person at increased risk for stroke. Your risk of stroke is higher if a family member has had a stroke. This risk factor is minimal in relation to the other risk factors. But, there are some rare genetic conditions that may raise the chance of having a stroke.
  • Ethnic background—African Americans are more likely to have hemorrhagic (bleeding) strokes. This may be due to a higher incidence of high blood pressure among African Americans. This risk is also minimal in relation to the other risk factors.

Kasper DL, Braunwald E, Fauci A, Hauser S, Longo D, Jameson JL. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 16th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004.

Risk factors for stroke anticoagulation therapy for stroke. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated December 2009. Accessed February 10, 2010.

Stroke (acute management). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated December 2009. Accessed February 10, 2010.

Stroke risk factors and symptoms. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/stroke/stroke_bookmark.htm. Accessed February 10, 2010.

12/16/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Farquhar C, Marjoribanks J, Lethaby A, Suckling J, Lamberts Q. Long term hormone therapy for perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;CD004143.

10/23/2009 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamicmedical.com/what.php: Lin HJ, Lee BC, Ho YL, et al. Postprandial glucose improves the risk prediction of cardiovascular death beyond the metabolic syndrome in the nondiabetic population. Diabetes Care. 2009;32:1721-1726.

Last reviewed September 2012 by Rimas Lukas, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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