Strokes 一 often referred to as "brain attacks" 一 can have severe consequences, including disability and even death. Yet, the Stroke Awareness Foundation estimates that 80% of strokes are preventable.
Understanding your risk factors is the first step in reducing your risk of having a stroke. Dr. Henock Saint-Jacques and our expert team here at Harlem Cardiology don’t just treat strokes: We want to prevent as many as possible! If you have concerns about your risk factors, visit our East Harlem, New York City, office.
Here’s a general overview of the risk factors for having a stroke.
Are you at risk for having a stroke?
Dr. Saint-Jacques assesses your personal risk for having a stroke by your specific risk factors, performing a comprehensive exam, and reviewing any blood work or electrocardiogram (EKG) test results. Like many chronic conditions, there are two kinds of risk factors: those you can control and those you have no control over.
Controllable risk factors
Controllable risk factors refer to risk factors that can be either prevented, treated, or managed through lifestyle changes. Controllable risk factors for strokes include:
Having high blood pressure
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a leading risk factor for heart attacks, but it’s also a risk factor for having a stroke. That’s because elevated blood pressure can damage any blood vessels, whether they are going to your heart or your brain. Damaged blood vessels are more susceptible to blockages and ruptures.
Smoking significantly increases your risk of developing several serious conditions, including heart attacks, several types of cancer, and strokes. Smoking damages your blood vessels, makes your blood stickier, promotes blood clot formation, and reduces oxygen levels in your blood. Even secondhand smoke increases your risk of having a stroke by 20-30%.
Anything that damages your blood vessels can increase your risk of having a stroke, and that includes high blood sugar levels. People with diabetes have a higher risk of stroke due to the potential damage high blood sugar levels can cause to blood vessels and nerves.
Unfortunately, diabetes doesn’t just increase your chances of having a stroke, but uncontrolled blood sugar can also contribute to more severe poststroke complications and outcomes.
Underlying heart conditions can also increase your risk of having a stroke. This includes:
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart valve defects
- Irregular heartbeat
- Enlarged heart chambers
Each heart condition can increase your risk for different reasons. For example, coronary artery disease may lead to plaque buildup in your arteries, and the more plaque buildup that you have, the greater likelihood that this plaque can block the flow of blood to your brain.
Other heart defects may increase your risk of having a blood clot, which could break loose and block the flow of blood to your brain.
If you have concerns about underlying heart conditions, talk to Dr. Saint-Jacques. Many of these conditions can be addressed through medication and, if needed, surgery.
Elevated levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol can contribute to atherosclerosis, a condition where your arteries become narrower and clogged with fatty deposits. Fatty deposits that block the flow of blood can cause a stroke.
Carrying excess body fat increases your risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol 一 all three of which are risk factors for having a stroke! Losing weight can reduce your risk for dozens of health problems.
Physical inactivity and poor diet
A sedentary lifestyle contributes to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Regular physical activity can help reduce stroke risk (and several other conditions)!
In addition to exercising, what you eat is also important. A diet high in saturated and trans fats, salt, and low in fruits and vegetables can increase the risk of stroke. Heavy drinking can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and other risk factors for stroke.
Risk factors you can’t control
Risk factors you can’t control include:
- Having a family or personal history of strokes
- Being over the age of 65
- Being a woman
While you can’t do anything about these risk factors, it’s important to focus on the risk factors you can control.
Assessing your risk
Every person is unique, and just because you have some risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily have a stroke. The opposite is also true.
To determine if you are at risk of having a stroke, Dr. Saint-Jacque assesses your personal health history, lifestyle, and personal and family health history. Depending on your personal risk factors, your stroke prevention plan may include lifestyle changes, dietary modifications, regular exercise, smoking cessation, medications to manage underlying conditions, or other medical interventions.
Ready to schedule an appointment? Call our office at 646-381-2181 to schedule your appointment, or simply use our online booking tool to get started.