A stroke can happen to anyone, but there are some things that increase your risk of a stroke. It’s important to know what the risk factors are, and do what you can to reduce your risk.
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Anyone can have a stroke
Many people think that strokes only happen to older people, but stroke can strike anyone, at any time.
It's vital to know how to spot the signs of a stroke in yourself or someone else. Use the FAST test to help you recognise the signs.
While most people who have a stroke are older, younger people can have strokes too, including children. One in four strokes in the UK happens to people of working age.
Main risk factors for stroke
As we get older, our arteries naturally become narrower and harder. They are also more likely to become clogged with fatty material, known as atherosclerosis. You can read more about how atherosclerosis can lead to an ischaemic stroke. It's never too late to reduce your risk of a stroke, and we have some great ideas for things you can try.
Certain medical conditions can increase your risk of stroke. Find out more about each condition, diagnosis and treatment here:
- High blood pressure is the single biggest risk factor for stroke.
- Diabetes can make your arteries more likely to get clogged up.
- Atrial fibrillation can lead to a clot forming in your heart, causing a stroke.
- High cholesterol can make your arteries more likely to get clogged up.
The way we live has a big impact on our risk of stroke. Things such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight and eating unhealthy foods can damage your blood vessels, increase your blood pressure and make your blood more likely to clot.
It's never too late to make a change. We have some ideas for things you can try in order to reduce your risk of stroke.
If a close relative (parent, grandparent, brother or sister) has had a stroke, your risk is likely to be higher. Speak to your GP if you have close relatives with stroke or heart attack, as some kinds of high cholesterol can run in families.
Strokes happen more often in people who are black or from South Asian families. If you're black or South Asian, you may need to get checked at an earlier age for diabetes, especially if you have any risk factors like being overweight. Contact your GP surgery to ask for a health check.
Risk factors for women
Women have some specific risk factors, such as pregnancy and using the combined contraceptive pill. If you need to take blood-thinning medication, this can sometimes cause very heavy periods. We have more information for women, with suggestions about what you can do to get advice and support.
Sickle cell disease
Sickle cell disease is an inherited condition that affects the red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. It can cause painful episodes and other symptoms, and it can also raise the risk of a stroke.
Around 10,000 people in the UK have SCD, and it mostly affects people of African, Caribbean, Asian, and Mediterranean origin. We have more information about SCD, and how to get advice and support.