Risk factors

Risk of stroke is influenced by a number of factors. The more risk factors you have, the higher your chances of having a stroke. Some stroke risk factors cannot be controlled. These include:

  • Age – as you get older, your risk of stroke increases
  • Gender – stroke is more common in men
  • A family history of stroke.

However, there are number of risk factors for stroke you can control and in doing so can help reduce the chances of having a stroke.

Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA)

TIA, or mini-stroke, is a warning a future stroke may be imminent. Early identification of symptoms and treatment by your doctor greatly reduces the chances of a major stroke.

High Blood Pressure

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High blood pressure, medically known as hypertension, is the most important known risk factor for stroke. High blood pressure can result in damage to blood vessel walls eventually leading to a stroke. You can control your blood pressure by changing your diet and lifestyle, particularly through regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight, or your doctor may prescribe medication. Normal blood pressure is around 120/80; if your blood pressure is consistently over 140/90 you have high blood pressure. The lower your blood pressure, the lower your risk of stroke.

Cigarette Smoking

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Smoking can increases your risk of stroke by increasing blood pressure and reducing oxygen in the blood.

High Cholesterol

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High cholesterol level is a contributing factor to blood vessel disease, which often leads to stroke. To reduce cholesterol in your blood, eat foods low in saturated fat. Choose lean meats and low-fat dairy products; limit your intake of eggs. Your doctor may prescribe medication to lower your cholesterol but diet changes and exercise are still important.

Poor Diet and Lack of Exercise

Being inactive, overweight or both can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. A balanced diet eating fresh foods where possible is recommended. It is also important to maintain a balance between exercise and food intake; this helps to maintain a healthy body weight. People who participate in moderate activity are less likely to have a stroke. Try and build up to at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. Talk to your doctor about an exercise program as people with high blood pressure should avoid some types of exercises.

Obesity

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Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of stroke. Too much body fat can contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and can lead to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. If you are unable to maintain your weight within recommended levels, ask a doctor or nutritionist for help.

Diabetes

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Diabetes, Type 1 (usually occurs from a young age and is treated with insulin injections) or Type 2 (usually occurs from 30 years onwards and is treated with either tablets or in some cases insulin) can damage the entire circulatory system and is a risk factor for stroke. Talk to your doctor about controlling diabetes if you are diabetic.

Alcohol

Your risk of stroke can be reduced with moderate alcohol intake (1-2 glasses a day). However, excessive amounts of alcohol can raise blood pressure and increase your risk of stroke.

Irregular Pulse (atrial fibrillation)

You are more at risk of stroke if you have an irregular pulse due to the condition atrial fibrillation or AF. Your doctor can diagnose this condition and advise you on how best to manage this if it happens. If you experience symptoms such as palpitations, weakness, faintness or breathlessness, it is important to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.