Stroke Risk Factors You Can Control, Treat and Improve

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Stroke is dangerous and deadly — the No. 5 killer and a leading cause of disability in America. But you can control and treat several risk factors for stroke.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a leading cause of stroke and the most significant controllable risk factor. So know your numbers and keep them low. Manage HBP.


The nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke damage the cardiovascular system and pave the way for a stroke. The use of birth control pills combined with cigarette smoking can greatly increase the risk of stroke. Quit smoking now and lower risks. Downloadable PDF.


If you have Type 1 or 2 diabetes, control your blood sugar. Diabetes mellitus is an independent risk factor for stroke. Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and are overweight — increasing their risk even more. While diabetes is treatable, the presence of the disease still increases your risk of stroke. Learn how to lower risks with diabetes and pre-diabetes. Statistics on diabetes and cardiovascular risks.


Diets high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels. Diets high in sodium (salt) can increase blood pressure. Diets with high calories can lead to obesity. But a diet containing five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day may reduce the risk of stroke. The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations outlines a healthy diet. Its based on these recommendations, which are easier to follow than you may think. 

Physical Inactivity

Physical inactivity can increase your risk of stroke, heart disease, overweight/obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes. Aim for being active at least 150 minutes a week, but if you don’t want to sweat the numbers, just move more and sit less. Learn more about the new American Heart Association Physical Activity recommendations. 


Excess body weight and obesity are linked with an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Losing as little as 5 to 10 pounds can make a significant difference in your risks. Even if weight control has been a lifelong challenge, start by taking small steps today to manage your weight and lower risks.

High Blood Cholesterol

Large amounts of cholesterol in the blood can build up and cause blood clots — leading to a stroke. Also, it appears that low HDL ("good”) cholesterol is a risk factor for stroke in men, but more data is needed to verify if this is true for women as well. Take control of your cholesterol.

Carotid Artery Disease

The carotid arteries in your neck supply blood to your brain. A carotid artery narrowed by fatty deposits from atherosclerosis (plaque buildups in artery walls) may become blocked by a blood clot causing a stroke.

Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease, or PAD, is the narrowing of blood vessels carrying blood to leg and arm muscles. It's caused by fatty buildup of plaque in artery walls. People with PAD have a higher risk of carotid artery disease, which raises their risk of stroke.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib (a heart rhythm disorder), increases stroke risks fivefold. That's because it causes the heart's upper chambers to beat incorrectly, which can allow the blood to pool and develop a clot. The clot can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. If you have AFib, know your stroke risks and get treatment to keep your risks low. Also, sleep apnea can be linked to AFib and is associated with increased stroke risks.

Other Heart Disease

People who have coronary heart disease or heart failure are at higher risk of stroke than people who have healthy hearts. Dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart), heart valve disease and some types of congenital heart defects can also raise the risk of stroke. So work with your health care provider to manage these related conditions.

Sickle Cell Disease (Sickle Cell Anemia)

This genetic disorder mainly affects African-American and Hispanic children and causes “sickled” red blood cells which are less able to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs. These cells also tend to stick to blood vessel walls, which can block arteries to the brain and cause a stroke. Work with your health care provider to prevent flare ups and manage them carefully. Learn more.

Stroke Risk Quiz

Take the Stroke Risk Quiz now. If you scored high for risk factors or are unsure of your risk score, talk with your health care provider about how you can reduce your risk.

Blood Pressure Monitor

High Blood Pressure is the No. 1 Controllable Risk Factor for Stroke

Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure, or hypertension. Work with your doctor to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range (under 120/80).