Medical Risk Factors

High blood pressure, atrial fibrillation (AFib), high cholesterol, diabetes and circulation problems are all medical risk factors, which are controllable, for stroke. Medical risk factors are often caused by a combination of things including family history. Medical risk factors are treatable by medications and special diets. Talk to your healthcare professional about options available and together come up with a plan that best fits you.

High blood pressure is the number-one cause of stroke. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. High blood pressure causes the heart to pump harder to move blood through the body. This can weaken blood vessels and damage major organs, such as the brain. People who have high blood pressure have one and a half times the risk of having a stroke compared to those who consistently have optimal blood pressure of 120/80. The most important thing you can do is to control it. This can be accomplished through healthy eating habits, physical activity, or medications.

AFib is a type of irregular heartbeat. While it can occur at any age, it is more common in people 65 years and older. AFib is more common in people with high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes. AFib raises stroke risk because it allows blood to pool in the heart. When blood pools, it tends to form clots which can then be carried to the brain, causing a stroke.

Long-term untreated AFib can also weaken the heart, leading to heart failure. The goal for treating AFib is to restore the regular rhythm of the heart, which can be done with medications or through the use of electrical stimulation.

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Cholesterol is the fatty substance in the blood. It can be either produced by the body or be found in food. High cholesterol in the arteries can block normal flow to the brain and cause a stroke. With high cholesterol your risk for heart disease and atherosclerosis also increase. Total cholesterol levels under 200 are recommended and if yours is higher, it can be controlled through healthy eating habits, physical activity, or medications.

In people with diabetes, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin (Type I Diabetes) or the cells ignore the insulin (Type II Diabetes). Without insulin, the body can’t process sugar, which is the basic fuel for the cells in the body. People with diabetes are up to four times more likely to have a stroke than people who don’t, mainly because people with diabetes often have other stroke risk factors, such as high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, and high cholesterol. Weight loss, exercise, changes in eating habits, oral medications, and insulin shots are all ways to control diabetes.

Circulation is the movement of the blood through the heart and blood vessels. One of the major circulation problems is atherosclerosis, progressive fatty deposits in the arteries that cause hardening and buildup of cholesterol plaque. Atherosclerosis can clog up arteries blocking the flow of blood to the brain, making a person more at risk for a stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), or other heart disease. Circulation problems can be treated with medications or surgery.