May is National Stroke Awareness Month and the ideal time to share information about the key categories of risk factors for strokes. According to the National Stroke Association, if you know the personal characteristics most likely to cause strokes, work at reducing risk factors, and recognize and respond to symptoms quickly, you can dramatically reduce the personal threats from strokes and save lives in the process — possibly even your own.
Lifestyle Factors — Bad eating habits, a lack of physical activity, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are all examples of lifestyle-oriented risk factors. When you improve habits and behavior, medical risk factors improve as well.
Medical Factors — Some people have predisposed family history conditions that may contribute to the incidence of strokes, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and circulation problems. In many of these cases, a combination of medications and special diets can reduce stroke risk.
AFib/Irregular Heartbeat Factors — AFib is a type of an irregular heartbeat that is most common in people age 65 and older. When an older heart in particular beats with an irregular rhythm, it can lead to pool of blood in the heart, which in turn tends to form blood clots. When clots travel through the bloodstream to the brain, a stroke is the result. Medication and electrical stimulation are the most successful methods of restoring a regular heartbeat.
Uncontrollable Factors — Unfortunately, some contributing stroke factors are beyond our control. In addition to family history (noted previously), age, gender and ethnicity are among the factors that determine the likelihood of a stroke. While we can not alter these personal characteristics, being aware of their presence can help us be more diligent in our health habits, if we know the odds are not in our favor, in comparison to others.