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FAQ (Health)

 Dr. George Jacob
Heart Infocenter



Risk Factors For Stroke

Unmodifiable Risk Factors


There is a general misconception that stroke occurs only in elderly adults. In actuality, stroke strikes all age groups, from fetuses still in the womb to centenarians.

However, older people have a higher risk for stroke than the general population and the risk for stroke increases with age. For every decade after the age of 55, the risk of stroke doubles, and two-thirds of all strokes occur in people over 65 years old. People over 65 also have a seven-fold greater risk of dying from stroke than the general population.


Men have a higher risk for stroke, but more women die from stroke. The stroke risk for men is 1.25 times that for women. But men do not live as long as women, so men are usually younger when they have their strokes and therefore have a higher rate of survival than women.

In other words, even though women have fewer strokes than men, women are generally older when they have their strokes and are more likely to die from them.

Heredity and Genetic Risk Factors

Stroke seems to run in some families. Several factors might contribute to familial stroke risk. Genes play an important role in the expression of stroke risk factors such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and vascular malformations. The influence of a common lifestyle among family members could also contribute to familial stroke.

Vascular malformations that cause stroke may have the strongest genetic link of all stroke risk factors. A vascular malformation is an abnormally formed blood vessel or group of blood vessels. One genetic vascular disease called CADASIL causes strokes. CADASIL is very debilitating and symptoms usually surface around the age of 45.


The risk for stroke varies among different ethnic and racial groups. The incidence of stroke among African-Americans is almost double that of white Americans. Moreover, twice as many African-Americans who have a stroke die from the event compared to white Americans. African-Americans between the ages of 45 and 55 have four to five times the stroke death rate of whites. After age 55 the stroke mortality rate for whites increases and is equal to that of African-Americans.

Compared to white Americans, African-Americans have a higher incidence of stroke risk factors, including high blood pressure and cigarette smoking.

African-Americans also have a higher incidence and prevalence of some genetic diseases, such as diabetes and sickle cell anemia, that predispose them to stroke.

Hispanics and American Indians have stroke incidence and mortality rates more similar to those of white Americans. In Asian-Americans stroke incidence and mortality rates are also similar to those in white Americans, even though Asians in Japan, China, and other countries of the Far East have significantly higher stroke incidence and mortality rates than white Americans.

This suggests that environment and lifestyle factors play a large role in stroke risk.

Source: National Institutes of Health

Caution: If you suspect a stroke, seek emergency medical treatment immediately. Time is of essence.

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