Stroke: Are You At Risk?


A stroke is a medical emergency. It’s the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and the most common cause for disability in adults.

Stroke occurs when a blood vessel to the brain is blocked or bursts. And unfortunately, data shows a higher-than-average incidence of stroke here in northern Michigan.

While it’s true that strokes are more common in our region, that doesn’t mean you can’t take charge of your health by understanding your risk. You’ll find some risk factors are out of your hands, including your age, gender, and family history. But thankfully, many health and lifestyle risk factors for stroke are manageable.  

Stroke Risk Assesment

Stroke Risk Factors: Health

Many common medical conditions will increase your odds of having a stroke:

  • You have high blood pressure

  • You’re overweight

  • You have unhealthy cholesterol levels

  • You have atrial fibrillation (AFib) or atrial flutter

  • You’ve had a heart attack

  • You have narrowed arteries

  • You have diabetes

High blood pressure (hypertension) is the most powerful stroke risk factor and represents the number one condition to manage to reduce your risk of stroke. While it’s true that family genetics play a role in blood pressure and cholesterol, these health markers can be managed with support from your family doctor.

Stroke Risk Factors: Lifestyle 

By far the most controllable risk factor for stroke is your lifestyle. Your odds of stroke rise if:

  • You rarely exercise

  • You often eat salty, fried, or greasy foods

  • You smoke

  • You have more than two alcoholic drinks per day (men) or more than one per day (women)

Any of the factors above increase your stroke risk. But having three or more can significantly increase your odds. A combination of factors called metabolic syndrome, which includes too much weight around your waist, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and unhealthy cholesterol levels, also raises your chances of having a stroke.

If you have any of these risk factors, be sure to speak with your family doctor about improving your overall health and decreasing your risk of stroke.

Stroke Risk Factors: Age, Race, and Gender

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your chance of having a stroke doubles every ten years after age 55. But younger people aren’t off the hook. About one in seven strokes occur in ages 15 to 49.

The American Stroke Association reports studies showing higher rates of stroke caused by hypertension and by diabetes in African American men.

Conversely, white women showed the highest chance of having a stroke among those who smoke.

You have a higher risk for stroke if:

  • You’re over age 60

  • A parent, brother, or sister has had a stroke

  • You’re a man

  • You’re African-American

  • You’re American Indian

You may also be at higher risk if you’ve had a prior stroke or a heart attack. A buildup of plaque in a blood vessel near the brain can cause a blockage the same way plaque can block blood vessels to the heart. 

Your age, race, and gender fall firmly in the “can’t control” category. But that doesn’t mean you should give up or let your guard down. It’s when age and family history combine with health and lifestyle that your stroke risk significantly increases.

Preventing a Stroke

Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented. Speak with your family doctor if you have concerns about your risk for stroke. And remember, health and lifestyle are the two risk factors you have the greatest ability to control. Your healthcare team may give you a plan for preventing a stroke, including:

  • Reducing cholesterol through lifestyle changes or medicines

  • Quitting smoking

  • Being physically active

  • Staying at a healthy weight

  • Limiting how much alcohol you have

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet

And remember, medical emergencies should never stay home. If you notice the signs and symptoms of a stroke, BE FAST and call 911 immediately. The safest place to be is your Munson Healthcare emergency room.

“The good news about stroke prevention is that the more risk factors you can improve or even eliminate, the better your chances of preventing a stroke,” said Kersti Bruining, MD, neurologist and Medical Director of Munson Medical Center’s Stroke Program. “More good news is that it’s never too late. If you’ve had a stroke, improving your risk factors can prevent another stroke.”

"While prevention is best, quick identification of a stroke is key to increasing your chances of a good outcome," said Gary Rajah, MD, Neurosurgeon and Director of Munson Healthcare's Endovascular Stroke Program. "Here at Munson Healthcare we are dedicated to the prevention and emergent treatment of stroke."

Take Our Stroke Risk Assessment

Are you one of thousands at risk for stroke in northern Michigan? Take our online stroke risk assessment to find out. 

Stroke Risk Assesment