A stroke happens when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or ruptures. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so brain cells die. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States.
There are several risk factors for stroke that you can change or treat, including:
- High blood pressure: The single most important risk factor and leading cause of stroke. If it is greater than 140/90, it is important to get it controlled.
- Diabetes: More than doubles your risk.
- Smoking: Damages blood vessels, which lead to blockages that cause a stroke.
- High cholesterol: Increases the risk of blocked arteries. Blocked arteries in the brain can result in a stroke.
- Physical inactivity and obesity: Being inactive, obese or both can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Excessive alcohol intake: Drinking an average of more than 1 drink per day for women or more than 2 drinks per day for men can raise blood pressure. Binge drinking can lead to a stroke.
- Transient Ischemic Attacks: Produce stroke-like symptoms but most have no lasting effects. Know the warning signs of TIAs and seek help immediately. They include weakness, numbness or paralysis in your face, arm or leg, typically on one side of your body, along with slurred or garbled speech, or difficulty understanding others.
Risk factors you can’t control include increasing age, gender, heredity and race, and prior stroke.
Since many of the risk factors for stroke are modifiable, it is important to discuss any risk factors and ways you can decrease your risk with your health care provider. Nearly all of these risk factors can be screened for during a primary care visit.
Cone Health has a highly specialized team that coordinates a state-of-the-art program to identify and treat stroke patients quickly and effectively.
Ashish Arora, MD, is a neurohospitalist and vascular neurologist at The Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. He completed medical school at Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore; research fellowship in neuroimaging at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School Boston; residency in neurology at University at Buffalo; and clinical fellowship in stroke neurology at The University of Texas at Houston.