Stroke Risk Factors

Helping patients regain function and independence following a stroke or neurological disorder

Anyone can have a stroke at any age. Your chances of having a stroke increase if you have certain risk factors. The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from a stroke is to understand your risk and how to manage it. Some of the risk factors for stroke cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.

Learn More About Stroke Risk Factors

Many common medical conditions can increase your risk for stroke. Work with your health care team to control your risk. If you have already had a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a “mini-stroke,” your chances of having another stroke are higher.


Diabetes mellitus also increases the risk for stroke. Your body needs glucose (sugar) for energy. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps move glucose from the food you eat to your body’s cells. If you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, can’t use its own insulin as well as it should, or both.

Diabetes causes sugars to build up in the blood. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage diabetes and control other risk factors.

Heart Disease

Common heart disorders can increase your risk for stroke. For example, coronary artery disease increases your risk for stroke because plaque builds up in the arteries and blocks the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain. Other heart conditions, such as heart valve defects, irregular heartbeat (including atrial fibrillation), and enlarged heart chambers, can cause blood clots that may break loose and cause a stroke.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke. It occurs when the pressure of the blood in your arteries and other blood vessels is too high.

There are often no symptoms to signal high blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure by changes in lifestyle or by medication can reduce your risk for stroke.

High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the liver or found in certain foods. Your liver makes enough for your body’s needs, but we often get more cholesterol from the foods we eat. If we take in more cholesterol than the body can use, the extra cholesterol can build up in the arteries, including those of the brain. This can lead to narrowing of the arteries, stroke, and other problems.

A blood test can detect of the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides (a related kind of fat) in your blood.

Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease is a blood disorder associated with ischemic stroke that mainly affects black and Hispanic children. The disease causes some red blood cells to form an abnormal sickle shape. A stroke can happen if sickle cells get stuck in a blood vessel and block the flow of blood to the brain.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

Your lifestyle choices can influence your risk for stroke. To reduce your risk, your doctor may recommend changes to your lifestyle. The good news is that healthy behaviors can lower your risk for stroke.


Diets high in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol have been linked to stroke and related conditions, such as heart disease. Also, too much salt (sodium) in the diet can raise blood pressure levels.

Physical Inactivity

Not getting enough physical activity can increase the chances of having other risk factors for stroke, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Regular physical activity can lower your risk for stroke.


Obesity is excess body fat. Obesity is linked to higher “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels and to lower “good” cholesterol levels. In addition to heart disease, obesity can also lead to high blood pressure and diabetes.

Too Much Alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure levels and the risk for stroke. It also increases levels of triglycerides, a form of fat in your blood, which can harden your arteries.

Women should have no more than 1 drink a day.
Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day.


Tobacco Use

Tobacco use increases the risk for stroke. Cigarette smoking can damage the heart and blood vessels, which increases your risk for stroke. Also, nicotine raises blood pressure, and carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen that your blood can carry. Exposure to other people’s secondhand smoke can increase the risk for stroke even for nonsmokers.

Source: The Centers for Disease Control (