What’s Your Risk of Stroke?

By: Alere Staff

With a staggering human and economic toll, stroke remains a large healthcare problem. About 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke each year estimated to result in 134,000 deaths annually.1 It is considered the third leading cause of death in the nation behind heart disease and cancer.1 According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), at least 200,000 deaths from heart disease and stroke each year are preventable through changes in health habits.

Although anyone at any age, race or gender can have a stroke, your chances of having a stroke increase with certain risk factors. There are two types of risk factors for stroke: those controllable factors (able to change) and those uncontrollable factors (may be unable to change).

Uncontrollable Risk Factors2: 

  • Age – Once more common with older populations, stroke can happen at any age
  • Gender – Men have the highest risk of death3
  • Race – More common among black men3
  • Family History – A positive family history of stroke increases risk of stroke by approximately 30%4
  • Previous Stroke – About 25% of strokes that occur each year are recurrent events5

Controllable Risk Factors2: 

  • High Blood Pressure – Risk of stroke increases gradually with increasing blood pressure2
  • Atrial Fibrillation – Associated with a 4- to 5-fold increased risk of ischemic stroke6
  • High Cholesterol – Many studies find an association between higher cholesterol levels and an increased risk of ischemic stroke2
  • Diabetes - Increased ischemic stroke for all ages, but was more common before age 55 in blacks and before age 65 in whites7
  • Tobacco Use and Smoking – Associated with an almost double the risk for ischemic stroke2
  • Physical Inactivity – Physically active men and women generally have a 25% to 30% lower risk of stroke or death than the least active people8
  • Obesity – Each 5 point increase in BMI (weight in divided by the square of height)was associated with a 40% increased risk of stroke mortality9
  • Alcohol Use – Heavy alcohol consumption is a risk factor for all types of stroke2

Many of the controllable lifestyle risk factors, like physical inactivity and smoking, can often be changed by following a healthy lifestyle. The controllable medical risk factors can usually be treated, either with lifestyle changes or medicine. The controllable risk factors can be managed best by working with your doctor, who can prescribe medications and advise on how to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Talk to your doctor about your risk factors for stroke and learn to recognize the signs of stroke. For more information about increasing your stroke awareness, see our article on Stroke Awareness Month.


  1. Lloyd-Jones D, et.al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2010 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2010;121:e46–e215. Epub December 17, 2009.
  2. Goldstein, L.B., et al. Guidelines for the Primary Prevention of Stroke: A Guideline for Healthcare Professionals. Stroke. 2011;42:517-584; originally published online December 2, 2010
  3. National Vital Statistics System, US Census Bureau, 2010.
  4. Flossmann E, Schulz UG, Rothwell PM. Systematic review of methods and results of studies of the genetic epidemiology of ischemic stroke. Stroke. 2004;35:212–227.
  5. Furie, K. L., et al. Guidelines for the Prevention of Stroke in Patients With Stroke or Transient Ischemic Attack. Stroke. 2011; 42: 227-276, Published online before print October 21, 2010.
  6. Kannel WB, Benjamin EJ. Status of the epidemiology of atrial fibrillation. Med Clin North Am. 2008;92:17– 40, ix.
  7. Kissela BM, et al. Epidemiology of ischemic stroke in patients with diabetes: the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Stroke Study. Diabetes Care. 2005;28:355–359.
  8. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, 2008. Washington, DC: US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2008. Available at: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/. Accessed September 10, 2013.
  9. Prospective Studies Collaboration, Whitlock G, Lewington S, Sherliker P, Clarke R, Emberson J, Halsey J, Qizilbash N, Collins R, Peto R. Body-mass index and cause-specific mortality in 900,000 adults: collaborative analyses of 57 prospective studies. Lancet. 2009;373: 1083–1096.