Causes and Risk Factors

Strokes are caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain. There are many risk factors that can increase your chances of having a stroke. Some of these factors are a result of lifestyle choices, while others may be factors that cannot be controlled.

Lifestyle risk factors for stroke include:

  • Poor diet and nutrition
  • Low levels of exercise and physical activity
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke

Medical risk factors for stroke may be managed through medication or other treatments, and include:

  • High blood pressure (above 120/80 mm/Hg)
  • Atrial fibrillation (A-fib)
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Sleep apnea
  • Pregnancy, use of hormonal birth control, or other estrogen therapies
  • Congenital heart disease

Other risk factors for stroke include:

  • Personal or family history. Having a personal or family history of stroke or cardiovascular disease may increase your stroke risk.

  • Increased age. People age 55 or older double their risk of a stroke every decade.

  • Race. African-Americans have a higher risk of stroke compared to other races.

  • Sex. Men are at an increased risk of stroke at a younger age compared to women. Women are more likely to have a more severe stroke at a later age and are at an increased risk of serious disability or death from strokes when they do occur.

Each year, 780,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke. Every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. suffers from stroke and on average, every three to four minutes someone dies from a stroke. Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability and the third leading cause of adult death.