A stroke can happen to anyone, but some factors increase your chances of having one. It's critical to understand the risk factors so you can take steps to mitigate them. Many people believe that strokes only occur in the elderly, but strokes can occur at any age.
Dr. Samuel I. Fink strives to provide the best internal medicine care in the Tarzana, California, area, with a focus on preventive health. Controlling risk factors associated with chronic disease helps lower your risk of complications.
Strokes are classified into two types. Ischemic stroke, the most common type, occurs when there’s a blockage in blood flow. Hemorrhagic stroke, the other major type of stroke, is caused by the rupture of a blood vessel, which bleeds into the brain.
There are numerous steps you can take to reduce your chance of having a stroke, and it starts with knowing what puts you at risk. Certain chronic conditions increase your risk of a stroke.
Of all risk factors, hypertension is the leading cause of stroke. High blood pressure increases the workload on your heart and, over time, damages your arteries and organs. People with hypertension are more likely to have a stroke than people with normal blood pressure.
A stroke is most often caused by narrowed or clogged blood vessels in the brain, which cut off blood flow to brain cells (ischemic stroke). In some cases, a blood vessel ruptures in or near the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).
Because high blood pressure causes no symptoms initially, you can go for years without realizing your blood pressure is chronically elevated. It’s important to know your blood pressure numbers and take steps to control hypertension.
Diabetes raises your chances of developing heart disease, which in turn increases your risk of stroke. Persistently high blood sugar damages blood vessels, setting the stage for a stroke.
If you have diabetes, it’s crucial to work closely with your provider to keep your blood sugar within a target range. This typically involves making lifestyle changes such as regular exercise and a healthy diet. When that isn’t enough, medications are available to assist in lowering blood glucose levels.
High cholesterol levels are well-established as a risk factor for developing heart disease and stroke. High cholesterol causes the accumulation of fatty plaques in the arteries, which supply oxygen to your heart and brain. This significantly increases your risk of an ischemic stroke.
However, different types of cholesterol have different effects on the body. In terms of its ability to harm the heart and brain, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as “bad cholesterol.” It plays a role in the formation of arterial plaques. LDL cholesterol levels greater than 130 mg/dL are linked to an increased risk of ischemic stroke.
The "good cholesterol" is high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Levels greater than 35 mg/dL protect against ischemic stroke by assisting in the transport of LDL to the liver and out of the bloodstream, as well as in the stabilization of existing plaques.
Higher amounts of HDL in your bloodstream provide protection, with HDL levels above 60 mg/dL offering the greatest benefits, while HDL levels below 35 mg/dL are associated with an increased risk of stroke.
Healthy blood vessels are relaxed and flexible. However, in atherosclerosis, plaque builds up in the arteries, causing them to harden and narrow. Over time, the plaque can break off and block blood flow.
When the arteries that supply blood to the brain narrow with plaques, a clot can form there and block blood supply. In other cases, a blood clot may travel from another part of the body and become lodged in the narrowed arteries that supply blood to the brain.
Adequately managing existing chronic conditions is the best way to protect yourself against associated risks like stroke. If you have a chronic condition and you’re concerned about your stroke risk, schedule a visit with Dr. Fink to discuss your concerns. Call the office or request an appointment online today.