How to Identify and Prevent Serious Stroke Risk Factors

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A stroke occurs when blood flow to one or more parts of the brain is suddenly lost. In a hemorrhagic stroke, the blood vessel ruptures; in an ischemic stroke, a blood clot blocks the flow entirely. Without the circulatory system delivering oxygen to them, cells in affected parts of the brain begin to die. This can result in minor difficulties speaking or moving, temporary or permanent paralysis and even death. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and major contributor to adult disability. The National Stroke Association estimates that as many as 80% of strokes could be prevented. By understanding the risk factors that increase the likelihood of stroke, you can and work to mitigate them in your own life.

High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

In addition to making the heart work harder and less efficiently, high blood pressure exerts excessive force against the delicate inner tissues of blood vessels. Over time, high blood pressure damages the lining of the blood vessels, causing them to tear. Cholesterol, sticky on its own, catches in these fissures and accumulates, forming plaques. As these plaques grow, they cause blood vessels to narrow and they restrict the flow of blood, further increasing blood pressure.

Artery Disease

Problems do not have to begin or even occur in the brain in order to damage the organ. An obstruction in any blood vessel can restrict circulation and lead to a stroke. For example, if cholesterol plaques build up in carotid artery, there’s a chance that a type of blood clot called deep vein thrombosis can occur. This will block the vessel, cutting off oxygenated blood before it ever gets to the brain. Alternatively, a piece of the plaque may break loose and make its way to the brain and create an obstruction; even though it didn’t originate in the brain, it can spread there with relative ease. These issues are not restricted to major blood vessel, as peripheral artery disease also increases the chance of stroke.

Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease, sometimes called sickle cell anemia, is a genetic mutation. It results in malformed hemoglobin, the compound in red blood cells that enables them to transport oxygen. Blood cells containing abnormal hemoglobin take the shapes of sickles of crescents, giving the disease its name. Not only are these cells unable to carry oxygen throughout the body, their distinctive shape causes them to cling to one another and clump together. Thus, sickle cell disease presents a twofold risk of stroke: an inability to carry oxygen efficiently and increased likelihood of blockages restricting blood flow.

Atrial Fibrilation

Atrial firbilation is a type of irregular heartbeat, called an arrhythmia, in which the upper chambers of the heart quiver instead of beating. As a result, blood does not move efficiently through these chambers. Blood that remains there can grow stagnant and pool, leading to the production of blood clots. These blood clots can escape the heart and move into other parts of the body, including the brain. As a result, the presence of atrial fibrillation alone increases the risk of stroke fivefold.


Not all of the conditions enumerated above can be easily or effectively treated. High blood pressure and cholesterol, however, are major culprits that can be controlled and even reduced, which likewise can decreases your chances of peripheral or carotid artery disease. Even if you already experience these conditions, you can work to slow or even halt their progress. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are interlinked with obesity; the means by which you can reduce one will likewise help to reduce the others. The best way to beat obesity is to alter your diet and engage in regular exercise. To begin with, eat a balanced diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, skinless poultry and fish, nuts, legumes and whole grains. At the same time, you should strive to minimize your intake of sodium, saturated and trans fats, red meat and things sweetened with sugar. Exercise will also help you make great strides in reducing the risk of experiencing a stroke. It is recommended that adults engage in 150 minutes of exercise each week. For most people, half an hour five times a week will be sufficient. If you’re actively trying to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, aim for three 40-minute sessions of vigorous activity. Finally, limit or eliminate smoking and drinking. Alcoholic beverages should be consumed in moderation, at a rate of only one or two drinks per day. Excessive drinking, as well as the nicotine and carbon monoxide consumed in cigarettes, can lead to increased blood pressure and circulatory damage. All of the above are easy, effective ways to drastically reduce your risk of stroke. Moreover, these approaches will likewise help you to enjoy better health overall.