Stroke Risk Factors


According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, with nearly 800,000 people suffering one each year. Quickly recognizing a stroke is key to a patient’s prognosis, but the greatest emphasis should be on stroke education and prevention. Identifying the major risk factors and making the necessary lifestyle changes are the best ways to reduce the number of stroke sufferers.

Types and Symptoms of Stroke

There are two main types of strokes: hemorrhagic and ischemic. In addition, patients can suffer a TIA (transient ischemic attack), also known as a “minor-stroke”. The characteristics of these strokes include:

  • Ischemic stroke: 78% of all strokes are ischemic and occur when the artery to the brain becomes blocked, depriving the brain of oxygenated blood.

  • Hemorrhagic stroke: These strokes occur when an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures, causing blood to put pressure on the brain and damaging brain cells.

  • Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): These minor-strokes are caused by temporary blockages of the artery to the brain, and typically resolve in five minutes or less. They are a sign that a major stroke is on the way and should be treated as a medical emergency. Note: We intentionally do not refer to TIA’s as “mini-strokes”

The symptoms of a stroke are sudden instances of:

  • Numbness or weakness, particularly on one side of the body, including the face, arm, or leg

  • Cognitive difficulties, including confusion, impaired speech, or difficulty understanding others

  • Difficulty seeing through one or both eyes

  • Severe headache with no apparent cause

One quick and effective way to identify a stroke is the BEFAST method, endorsed and used by doctors, nurses, and EMTs. BEFAST stands for the following;

  • B- Balance. Has the patient suddenly lost their balance?

  • E- Eyes. Has the patient suffered vision loss?

  • F- Face. Is the patient’s smile uneven?

  • A- Arm. Check for weakness or numbness in one arm.

  • S- Speech. Is the patient’s speech slurred?

  • T- Time. Act quickly and call 911 immediately.

Main Stroke Risk Factors

Although strokes are far too common, patients can lower their chances of having one by addressing the main risk factors. These risk factors can be categorized as modifiable and non-modifiable.

Modifiable Risk Factors
  • High blood pressure: Readings of 140/90 can cause damage to the arteries that supply blood to the brain.

  • Heart disease: Heart disease and stroke share many risk factors.

  • Diabetes: Those with diabetes face a higher risk of stroke.

  • Smoking Smoking can nearly double the risk of an ischemic stroke.

  • Oral contraceptives: Using birth control pills raises stroke risk.

  • High cholesterol and lipids: These can cause a buildup of plaque in blood vessels and block blood flow to the brain.

  • Lack of exercise and obesity: Associated with poor health in general, these conditions raise the risk of stroke as well.

  • Alcohol use: More than two drinks a day may raise blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke.

  • IV drug use: Using IV drugs raises the chances of blood clots and stroke.

  • Heart abnormalities: Those with heart abnormalities face a higher risk of stroke.

Non-Modifiable Risk Factors
  • Gender: Men are more likely to have a stroke, but more women die from them. Additionally, stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer each year. This increased risk in women is due to factors including pregnancy, preeclampsia, oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, migraines with aura, and atrial fibrillation.

  • Age: The risk of stroke increases with age, however, 10% of strokes occur in people under 50.

  • Race: African American men are more prone to high blood pressure than white men, which makes them more prone to strokes as well.

  • Heredity: Having family members who have experienced a stroke will increase your risk

  • History of prior stroke or TIA: If you’ve experienced a stroke or TIA, your risk of having another one significantly increases in the days and weeks following the initial stroke.

Take Action to Help Prevent a Stroke

Fortunately, patients can greatly reduce their risk of stroke by making healthy lifestyle changes, including:

  • Healthy diet: Eat a diet low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and salt. Eat plenty of fiber and include fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Healthy weight: If you are obese or overweight, lose some pounds to lower your risk.

  • Regular exercise: The Surgeon General recommends that adults get 30 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity each day, such as walking, jogging, or yard work.

  • Quit smoking: One of the best things you can do for your overall health and wellbeing is to quit smoking. Doing so lowers your stroke risk, and also reduces risk of heart attack and many other maladies.

Controlling health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart issues is key to preventing strokes. Stress contributes to stroke risk as well, so try and manage your life pressures; seek help from a mental health professional for assistance in easing mental and emotional strain.

The Sevaro Advantage

Sevaro provides evidence-based teleneurology, specializing in emergent stroke care. When you choose Sevaro as your trusted hospital partner, you improve the care and prognosis of stroke victims. Your ED staff can reach a vascular neurologist in under 45 seconds, which means the right treatment decisions are made faster, improving patient outcomes. Our telestroke and general teleneurology services bring enhanced medical care to partner hospitals and their patients across the country, and help stroke victims recover faster and more fully.

Sevaro also offers stroke survivors and caretakers a free monthly support group that helps them cope with the pressures their circumstances may bring. For more information on Sevaro’s teleneurology services, please fill out this brief online form.

Hospitals have many options for telestroke partners, but only one option dedicated exclusively to teleneurology and revolutionizing and personalizing telestroke care. When time is everything, Sevaro will stand by you, your staff, and your patients to save time, save brain, and save lives.