Some risk factors for a transient ischemic attack and stroke can’t be changed. Others you can control.
Risk Factors You Can’t Change
You can’t change the following risk factors for a transient ischemic attack and stroke. But knowing you’re at risk can motivate you to change your lifestyle to reduce other risks.
- Family history. Your risk may be greater if one of your family members has had a TIA or a stroke.
- Age. Your risk increases as you get older, especially after age 55.
- Sex. Men have a slightly higher risk of a TIA and a stroke.
- Prior transient ischemic attack. If you’ve had one or more TIAs, you’re much more likely to have a stroke.
- Sickle cell disease. Stroke is a frequent complication of sickle cell disease. In this inherited disorder, sickle-shaped blood cells carry less oxygen and also tend to get stuck in artery walls, hampering blood flow to the brain. However, proper treatment can lower your risk of a stroke.
Risk Factors You Can Control
You can control or treat a number of factors — including certain health conditions and lifestyle choices — that increase your risk of a stroke.
- High blood pressure. The risk of a stroke begins to increase at blood pressure readings higher than 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Your doctor will help you decide on a target blood pressure based on your age, whether you have diabetes and other factors.
- High cholesterol. Eating less cholesterol and fat, especially saturated fat and trans-fat, may reduce the plaques in your arteries. If you can’t control your cholesterol through dietary changes alone, your doctor may prescribe a statin or another type of cholesterol-lowering medication.
- Cardiovascular disease. This includes heart failure, a heart defect, a heart infection or an abnormal heart rhythm.
- Carotid artery disease. The blood vessels in your neck that lead to your brain become clogged.
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD). The blood vessels that carry blood to your arms and legs become clogged.
- Diabetes. Diabetes increases the severity of atherosclerosis — narrowing of the arteries due to accumulation of fatty deposits — and the speed with which it develops.
- High levels of homocysteine. Elevated levels of this amino acid in your blood can cause your arteries to thicken and scar, which makes them more susceptible to clots.