Stroke is one of the top leading causes of death in the U.S. While you can’t completely prevent it from happening, you can make a few changes to increase your chances of staying alive for a long time. Are you in immediate danger? These signs can tell you.
If any of the following circumstances apply to you, know that you’re putting yourself at a much higher risk of stroke — and there’s no guarantee you’ll survive it. One “mini episode” is a terrifying stroke symptom you may not be aware of (page 9).
1. You’re over 50
Your risk of having a stroke almost doubles every 10 years after you turn 55. This has a lot to do with your risk of disease and death generally going up the older you get. Heart problems and their risk factors (high blood pressure, cholesterol) especially put you at risk.
Next: Have trouble sleeping? This disorder could lead to an early death.
2. You have sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing while asleep. Your brain wakes you up so breathing can resume, but you might not even know it’s happening. Older adults with this disorder have an increased risk of stroke, probably because of the related risk factors.
Next: A little bit of this is actually a good thing — but too much could kill you.
3. You drink a lot of alcohol
The more alcohol you drink, the greater your chances of dying from a stroke. In some cases, light to moderate drinking can decrease your risk of one type of stroke, but heavy drinking has the opposite effect. Heavy drinking involves consuming three or more drinks per day for women, and four or more for men.
Next: Get this health condition under control right away.
4. You have high blood pressure
If you aren’t being treated for this condition, you could damage the walls of your arteries and suffer a deadly stroke. High blood pressure also increases your risk of developing a type of artery disease that can cut off blood flow to your brain.
Next: This bad habit doesn’t just hurt your lungs.
5. You smoke
Inhaling cigarette smoke on a regular basis changes the cells in your body and impacts how much oxygen your blood can carry throughout your body. This isn’t just bad for your lungs and heart: it also makes you more likely to die from a stroke.
Next: Unfortunately, you might not know you have this problem until it’s too late.
6. Your arteries are clogged
When the arteries that supply blood to your brain become blocked, your brain can’t get the oxygen it needs, and starts to shut down. Carotid artery disease, for example, occurs when 80% of your carotid artery is blocked, significantly increasing your chances of having a deadly stroke.
Next: This isn’t the only heart problem that could lead to a stroke.
7. You have another type of heart disease
Any disease that negatively impacts your heart’s ability to supply oxygen to your brain makes you more likely to have a stroke. This could mean your heart works overtime, without producing good results, or blood can’t get to the places it needs to go.
Next: Take your medications for this condition if you want to avoid having a stroke.
8. You have high cholesterol
If you have high cholesterol, and you aren’t doing what you should be doing to keep your levels in a safer range, you’re increasing your chances of dying from a stroke. Excess cholesterol in your blood can clog your arteries and stop blood from getting to your brain, which can kill you.
Next: This “mini episode” is a terrifying stroke symptom.
9. You’ve had a mini stroke
A transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is a sort of “mini stroke” that occurs when blood flow to the brain becomes temporarily blocked. If you have had one or more of these, you need to tell your doctor about it. Don’t wait. TIAs are warning signs that a full-blown and much more dangerous stroke could happen soon.
Next: People with this disease have to manage their conditions carefully their whole lives.
10. You have sickle cell anemia
Certain blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia, can make you much more likely to suffer a deadly stroke. The development of abnormal red blood cells increases your risk of developing blood clots that can travel to your brain and put your life in danger.
Next: This very dangerous habit has more than one health risk.
11. You’re an illegal drug user
Consistently using drugs like heroine and cocaine can significantly increase your risk of stroke. While marijuana is not included in this category, past research does suggest that many people who end up abusing drugs that increase stroke risk start out smoking weed.
Next: This health condition might not seem related to having a stroke, but it is.
12. You have diabetes
If you have type 2 diabetes, and don’t do much to keep it under control, you’re probably going to have a stroke. Over time, high levels of sugar in your blood can start to accumulate along the walls of the arteries in your neck. If those become blocked, your brain could lose oxygen and shut down.
Next: If your doctor tells you to make this lifestyle change, you should listen.
13. You’re overweight
It might seem like having extra body fat isn’t that big of a deal, but if you aren’t trying to lose weight — especially if your doctor has strongly suggested you do so — you’re putting yourself at risk for a serious stroke.
Next: You should really consider going for a walk, at least.
14. You don’t exercise
Are your workout clothes hibernating in the bottom of a drawer? Do you spend most of your day just sitting around? Even just a few workouts a week can decrease your risk of having a stroke. Exercise improves blood flow and keeps your body in a better state of overall health.
Next: This is one of the most obvious signs a stroke could be deadly in your future.
15. You’ve had a stroke before
There are plenty of people who have strokes and survive them. Unfortunately, your chances of having a stroke don’t go down as soon as you have one. In fact, people who have had strokes before are much more likely to have more than those who have never had one before.
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