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Stroke Risk Factors

Do you know your stroke risk? Some factors are out of your control, like family history. But you can control some, including diet and physical activity. Now is the time to take charge of your health.


The likelihood of having a stroke increases with age for both males and females. Although stroke is more common among the elderly, a lot of people under 65 also have strokes. Even babies and children can have a stroke.

Family History

If your parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke — especially before reaching age 65 — you may be at greater risk. Sometimes strokes are caused by genetic disorders like CADASIL, which can block blood flow in the brain.


African-Americans have a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians do. This is partly because blacks have higher risks of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Visit our Empowered to Serve program to learn more. Hispanics and Latinos also have unique risks for stroke.


Women have more strokes than men and stroke kills more women than men. Women tend to live longer than men and are older when they have a stroke. Factors that may increase stroke risks for women include pregnancy, history of preeclampsia/eclampsia or gestational diabetes, oral contraceptive use (especially when combined with smoking) and post-menopausal hormone therapy. Be sure to discuss your risks with your doctor.

Prior Stroke, TIA or Heart Attack

A person who has had a prior stroke has a much higher risk of having another stroke than a person who has never had one. A person who’s had one or more transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) is almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who hasn’t. TIAs are smaller, temporary blockages in the brain that can produce milder forms of stroke-like symptoms but may not leave lasting damage. A TIA is a medical emergency. So follow up immediately with a healthcare professional.

If you’ve had a heart attack, you’re at higher risk of having a stroke. A heart attack is caused by plaque buildup that blocks blood vessels to the heart. Similarly, most strokes are caused by a buildup of plaque that cause blockages in the brain.

Several additional factors may increase your risk of stroke:

Geographic Location

Strokes are more common in southeastern states — the “stroke belt” states. Check out your state and consider how it supports healthy habits.

Socioeconomic Factors

Strokes may be more common among those with lower incomes. One reason may be due to higher smoking and obesity rates. Another reason may be that access to quality health care is often more limited among those with lower incomes. Support quality health care for all.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse can lead to medical complications, including stroke. If you drink alcohol, we recommend no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for non-pregnant women. See recommendations. Pregnant women should not drink alcohol. Speak with your doctor or a local support group if you need help overcoming addiction to alcohol.

Drug Abuse

The most commonly abused drugs, including cocaine, amphetamines and heroin, have been associated with an increased risk of stroke. Strokes caused by drug abuse often occur in a younger population. Steer clear of potentially addicting substances and see a doctor if you need support to overcome substance abuse.

Sleep Habits

Recent studies are clarifying the reasons that well-rested people tend to have lower heart disease and stroke risks. Adopt habits that promote healthy sleep patterns.

By The American Stroke Association

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