Guys: Are You at Risk for Stroke?

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the country and a major contributing factor to disability. Every year there are approximately 600,000 strokes that cause about 158,000 deaths. For 2005, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that the cardiovascular disease would cost the U.S. economy about $254 billion.

Stroke is largely preventable. Back in 2005 (the year for which the most recent statistics are currently available for the disease), representatives from the CDC pointed out that there is a general misconception about stroke within the general population. It isn't an old-age disease that causes you to die in your sleep - it can ruin your middle-age years. Knowing your risks and how to improve them may mean the difference between running the Boston marathon when you're 50 and watching from the sidelines.

Risk Factors for Stroke

The American Stroke Association (ASA) explains that risk factors fall into two categories--those you can change, and those you can't.

Changeable (or controllable) risk factors

• Hypertension. High blood pressure is the main cause of stroke.

• Smoking. According to the ASA, toxins such as nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke harm the cardiovascular system.

• Diabetes. This disease that's on the rise increases blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and therefore your risk of stroke.

• Other cardiovascular disease. For instance, if you have coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis (for instance, blocked blood vessels in your neck, arm or leg), or a heart rhythm disorder.

• A sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition. These are two key factors in obesity and overweight - conditions that increase other risk factors of stroke such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.

• Sickle cell anemia. A genetic blood disorder that primarily affects African-Americans and Hispanics and causes cells to stick to blood vessel walls, which block arteries and increase the risk of stroke.

Unchangeable risk factors

• Your age. The odds of suffering a stroke approximately doubles for every decade after 55 years old, states the ASA.

• Heredity. Having a parent, grandparent or sibling who suffered a stroke increases the likelihood that you'll have one.

• Race. African-Americans are twice as likely to have a stroke as whites, and Hispanic Americans and Pacific-Islanders also have a higher risk than whites.

• Gender. Men have higher incident rates than women, but the death rate from stroke is higher for women.

• A past stroke. Once you have a stroke your chances of having another increases.

What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk of Stroke

The National Stroke Association explains that having risk factors for stroke doesn't mean you'll have one. A daily low-dose aspirin can put the odds in your favor, so can the following strategies:

• Maintain normal blood pressure. There are no symptoms for this "silent killer" that's the main cause of stroke. Normal blood pressure is less than 120 below 80. The American Heart Association recommends checking it at least once every two years, or more if necessary. If you skip doctor's visits, you can use a blood pressure checker at a pharmacy or buy an at-home blood pressure monitor.

• Exercise daily and eat a healthy diet. Physical activity and a nutritious diet (low in alcohol, fat, salt and sugar) help you to maintain your weight and lower other risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity.

• Quit smoking. When assessing stroke risks, cigarette smoking is even worse if you have high blood pressure. Speak to your doctor about smoke-cessation plans, which are much more successful than going cold turkey.

•  Take medications as advised. If you're on prescription meds for conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, follow the dosage and the schedule to reduce your risk of stroke.

• Reduce stress. In a study published in the journal Stroke, participants with high stress intensity had nearly a two-fold risk of fatal stroke compared with those who weren't stressed—although stress didn't seem to play a role in nonfatal episodes.


Centers for Disease Control, American Stroke Association, American Heart Association, National Stroke Association, American Society on Aging

Stroke, 2003 34:856-862

"Self-Reported Stress and Risk of Stroke: The Copenhagen City Heart Study."

Thomas Truelsen, Naja Nielsen, Gudrun Boysen, Morten Grønbæk