Many common medical conditions can increase your chances of having a stroke. Work with your health care team to control your risk.
Previous stroke or transient ischemic attack
If you have already had a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a "mini-stroke," your chances of having another stroke are higher.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke. It occurs when the pressure of the blood in your arteries and other blood vessels is too high.
There are often no symptoms of high blood pressure. Get your blood pressure checked often. If you have high blood pressure, lowering your blood pressure through lifestyle changes or medicine can also lower your risk for stroke.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the liver or found in certain foods. Your liver makes enough for your body's needs, but we often get more cholesterol from the foods we eat. If we take in more cholesterol than the body can use, the extra cholesterol can build up in the arteries, including those of the brain. This can lead to narrowing of the arteries, stroke, and other problems.
A blood test can tell your doctor if you have high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (a related kind of fat) in your blood.
Common heart disorders can increase your risk for stroke. For example, coronary heart disease increases your risk for stroke because plaque builds up in the arteries and blocks the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain. Other heart conditions, such as valve defects, irregular heartbeat (including atrial fibrillation), and enlarged heart chambers, can cause blood clots that may break loose and cause a stroke.
Diabetes increases your risk for stroke. Your body needs glucose (sugar) for energy. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps more glucose from the food you eat to your body's cells. If you have diabetes, your body doesn't make enough insulin, can't use its own insulin as well as it should, or both.
Diabetes causes sugars to build up in the blood and prevent oxygen and nutrients from getting to the various parts of your body, including your brain. High blood pressure is also common in people with diabetes. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and is the main cause for increased risk of stroke among people with diabetes.
Talk with your doctor about ways to keep diabetes under control.
Sickle cell disease
Sickle cell disease is a blood disorder linked to ischemic stroke that affects mainly black and Hispanic children. The disease causes some red blood cells to form an abnormal sickle shape. A stroke can happen if sickle cells get stuck in a blood vessel and block the flow of blood to the brain.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2009). Stroke: challenges, progress, and promise. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health.
Content last updated on January 31, 2020