“This could increase your risk for heart attack or stroke.”
You’ve probably heard these words before, whether in a health article or crammed into the last 10 seconds of a pharmaceutical commercial. But when it comes to really understanding your risk for serious, and sometimes fatal, conditions like these, how familiar are you with your risk factors?
Stroke risk factors are behaviors or medical conditions that make you more likely to suffer a stroke. Although having one or more of these factors does not mean you will definitely have a stroke, they do increase your likelihood, which is why understand these factors and addressing them is the first step in preventing stroke risk.
“Some people may be quick to assume that because they’re eating well and exercising regularly that they’re protected, but that’s not always true,” explains Donald Ferrari, DO, cardiologist at Paoli Hospital, Main Line Health. “Activities like these can certainly decrease your risk, but there are other factors to consider, as well.”
Like many other health conditions, most of these risk factors can be treated or controlled by lifestyle changes or medication prescribed by your doctor. In addition to maintaining a healthy weight and balanced diet and exercise routine, Dr. Ferrari says that it’s important to pay attention to other behaviors or factors you might overlook, like smoking or excessive alcohol use.
“Paying attention to how much you smoke or drink is important,” he says. “Women should stick to about one drink per day, and men to two drinks per day. Drinking more than that, and doing it often, could increase your risk.”
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity can also play a role in increasing your risk for stroke. No matter what your weight, make regular appointments with your doctor to discuss your blood pressure and cholesterol.
While you are able to modify risk factors like blood pressure or alcohol intake, there are other factors that increase your stroke risk that are out of your control. Age, gender, race, and family history can all increase your risk for stroke, even if you’re living a healthy lifestyle. Older patients, men, and African Americans are all groups that are more likely to suffer from a stroke.
“Unfortunately, there is no way to treat risk factors like these, which is why if you fall into one or more of these groups, it’s even more important to live a healthy lifestyle and pay attention to the risk factors you can control,” says Dr. Ferrari.
Paoli Hospital Stroke Services is the recipient of the American Heart Association’s Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award for stroke care. To learn more about your risk for stroke or to make an appointment with a cardiologist, visit the Main Line Health website.