Understanding risk factors for stroke
Jacqueline Carter, MD, is the medical director of the stroke program at Banner Desert Medical Center.
Question: What is a stroke? How do I know if I am at risk?
Answer: Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain.
It is the No. 4 cause of death in the U.S., and the No. 1 cause of nursing home admission and permanent disability.
During a stroke, the blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain becomes blocked by a clot or bursts. Without blood flowing to the brain to deliver oxygen, the brain starts to die.
There are three types of strokes: ischemic (clot), hemorrhagic (bleed) and transient ischemic attack, also known as a TIA or “mini stroke.” Mini strokes are caused by temporary clots, and usually only last a few minutes. TIAs should be taken very seriously because a third of people who experience a TIA end up having a stroke within one year.
There are two types of risk factors—controllable and uncontrollable.
Uncontrollable risk factors are just that—risks that are not within your control. These are factors like age, gender, race, family history and whether or not you have had a previous stroke or TIA.
The other types of risk factors are controllable. These are risk factors include:
- high blood pressure
- atrial fibrillation
- high cholesterol
- circulation problems
- tobacco use
- physical inactivity
- peripheral artery disease
- poor diet.
If any of these risk factors apply to you, speak with your doctor about ways to eliminate those risks. Your doctor might suggest an exercise regimen and healthy diet to reduce your risk, and regular screenings to monitor your risk.