Know your risk for stroke

Stroke ranks as the fourth leading cause of natural death in the United States behind heart attacks and cancer. Not only is it devastating and often debilitating to individuals, but it also can have a major impact on families when a loved one loses their independence. Stroke is the most common cause of adult disability. Each year approximately 795,000 Americans have a stroke, with about 160,000 dying from stroke-related causes. 

Eighty percent of strokes occur when blood circulation to the brain fails due to a blockage of blood flow (like a heart attack). Other causes of strokes are the result of bleeding into the brain. 

By knowing the early signs and your risk factors, you can lower your risk of death or disability from stroke. Call a doctor or 911 right away if you observe one or more of these warning signs:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially if only on one side of your body.
  • Sudden confusion, or trouble talking or understanding speech.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

You may have heard of people having “mini-strokes.” These transient ischemic attacks or TIAs, are often ignored. Brief episodes of double vision, drowsiness, and nausea or vomiting are often warning signs of a more serious condition. Paying attention to your body and knowing your risk factors can save your life. 

Aging along with gender, race and family history all play a crucial role in your risk of stroke. While stroke occurs in all age groups, the risk doubles for each decade between the ages of 55 and 85. Men also have a higher risk for stroke in young and middle age than women do, but more women die from stroke than men. This is largely in part because women tend to have strokes when they are much older and the chance of recovery is reduced the older you are.

Stroke is twice as common and more deadly for Black and Hispanic people than for Caucasians. An important risk factor is sickle cell disease which can cause narrowing of arteries and disrupt blood flow which increases the chance of stroke. 

Lifestyle and family history also plays a factor in your risk for stroke. For example, you may have a genetic tendency for high blood pressure or diabetes which increases your risk of stroke. However, high blood pressure can be prevented at least or managed as well as Type 1 diabetes with medication and by making some lifestyle changes.

Other factors that increase the risk of stroke and death by stroke include smoking, heart disease, high cholesterol, physical inactivity and obesity. By understanding risk factors and making certain lifestyle changes, you can reduce your risk of stroke and other diseases.  

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any concerns you may have regarding your risk or how to make changes in your lifestyle to reduce your risk of stroke.