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Risk Factors of Strokes Manchester NH

Many—perhaps most—strokes can be prevented. Therapies to prevent a first or recurrent stroke are based on treating your underlying risk factors for stroke or on preventing the widespread formation of blood clots that can cause ischemic stroke in anyone, regardless of risk factors.

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Risk Factors of Strokes

Group of Women

Many—perhaps most—strokes can be prevented. Therapies to prevent a first or recurrent stroke are based on treating your underlying risk factors for stroke or on preventing the widespread formation of blood clots that can cause ischemic stroke in anyone, regardless of risk factors.

Some people simply have a higher risk for stroke than others. Factors such as age, gender, race/ethnicity and family history of stroke can't be changed. But you can control other risk factors, such as high blood pressure or cigarette smoking.

The most significant risk factors for stroke are high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and smoking. Others include heavy alcohol consumption, high blood cholesterol, illicit drug use and genetic or congenital conditions, particularly problems with blood vessels. If you have more than one risk factor, you have "amplification of risk." This means that the multiple risk factors compound their destructive effects and create an overall risk greater than simply adding the individual risks together.

Atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disturbance that causes the small chambers of the heart to beat irregularly and allows blood clots to form, is another risk factor for stroke. With this condition, your doctor will likely prescribe a medication like warfarin (Coumadin) which "thins" the blood to prevent clots.

Cigarette smoking is one of the greatest risk factors for stroke. Smoking almost doubles your risk for ischemic stroke, independent of other risk factors. It is also responsible for more strokes in young adults than older adults. Smoking increases the risk of stroke by promoting atherosclerosis, a condition in which arteries harden after years of buildup of plaque, cholesterol and other debris in the bloodstream. Narrowed arteries can't effectively deliver blood to the brain, raising the risk of stroke. Smoking also increases levels of blood-clotting factors and weakens blood vessels, so if a stroke occurs, the damage may be worse.

Your relative risk of stroke drops immediately after you stop smoking, and it may take only a few years for a former smoker's risk to drop to the level of someone who never smoked. One of the most important things you can do to prevent stroke is to stop smoking.

Your risk of stroke also goes up if you take oral contraceptives and smoke. Talk with your health care professional to weigh the pros and cons of oral contraceptives as compared to other forms of birth control.

High alcohol consumption (more than two drinks per day) may seriously reduce the number of blood platelets, interfering with blood clotting and thickness and increasing the risk of a hemorrhagic stroke. In addition, heavy drinking or binge drinking can lead to a rebound effect after the alcohol leaves your body and your blood thickness and platelet levels skyrocket, increasing the risk for ischemic stroke.

If you drink, do so in moderation. This means no more than one drink per day for women, and no more than two drinks per day for men. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or one and a half ounces of 80-proof liquor.

If you are a nondrinker, this is not a recommendation to start using alcohol. And certainly, if you are pregnant or have another health condition that could make alcohol use harmful, you should not drink.

The use of illicit drugs, such as cocaine, crack cocaine and amphetamines, can cause stroke. Cocaine can aggravate other risk factors, such as hypertension, heart disease and vascular disease, triggering a stroke. It decreases blood flow to the brain, causes blood vessels to tighten and prevents blood vessels from relaxing, leading to narrowing of the arteries. It also affects the heart, causing arrhythmias and rapid heart rates that can lead to blood clots.

Marijuana is sometimes identified as a risk because it reduces blood pressure and may interact with other risk factors, such as hypertension and cigarette smoking, to cause rapidly fluctuating blood pressure levels, damaging blood vessels. Other drugs of abuse, such as heroin and anabolic steroids—and even some over-the-counter diet aids—may increase stroke risk. Many of these drugs are vasoconstrictors, meaning that they may cause blood vessels to constrict and blood pressure to rise.

Diet may also be a factor. One study finds that eating five to six servings of fruits and vegetables a day can reduce the risk of ischemic stroke by a third compared to eating fewer vegetables and fruits. The American Heart Association recommends a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.

So, here's what you can do to reduce your risk of stroke:

  • Stop smoking.

  • Check your blood pressure regularly; if it is high, work with your health care professional to keep it under control. A normal blood pressure reading is less than 120/80.

  • Restrict salt intake to reduce your blood pressure if you have high blood pressure.

  • Find out if you have atrial fibrillation, or an irregular beating of the heart. This is a risk for blood clots. If you do have atrial fibrillation, your health care professional may prescribe a blood-thinning medication to prevent clots, depending on any other risk factors.

  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two for men. (A standard drink is one 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.) This is intended to measure the amount consumed on a single day and does not represent an average over several days. In other words, if you don't drink all week and then drink seven drinks on Saturday, it's not the same as having one drink a day. More than a drink a day is considered heavy drinking in women.

  • Have your cholesterol checked. Healthy cholesterol guidelines for individuals without heart disease are:

    • total cholesterol levels less than 200 mg/dL
    • HDL (high density lipoprotein) levels 50 mg/dL or higher for women; 40 mg/dL or higher for men.
    • LDL (low-density lipoprotein)
      • People who are at a low risk for heart disease: levels less than 160 mg/dL
      • People who are at an intermediate risk for heart disease: levels less than 130 mg/dL
      • People who are at a high risk for heart disease: levels less than 100 mg/dL
      • People who are at a very high risk for heart disease: levels less than 70 mg/dL
    • Triglycerides (another type of lipid) less than 150 mg/dL

    For more information on blood cholesterol, visit: http://www.americanheart.org.

  • If you have high blood cholesterol, discuss treatment options with your health care professional.

  • If you have already had a stroke, ask your doctor whether you should be on a statin medicine. While these medications are generally used to lower cholesterol, there is strong evidence that they reduce the risk of recurrent stroke even in patients with normal cholesterol levels.

  • If you have diabetes, work with your health care professional to control the disease.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Treat any circulation problems.

For the rest of this article, questions to ask your health care professional, information on diagnosis, treatment and more, click here.

Author: Editorial Staff of the National Women's Health Resource Center

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