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Habits Secretly Increasing Your Stroke Risk, Say Physicians

These things are putting you in serious danger of stroke.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the U.S.—according to the CDC, one in every six deaths from cardiovascular disease in 2018 was due to stroke. There are two main causes of stroke: ischemic stroke from a blocked artery, and hemorrhagic stroke from a burst blood vessel. "The common causes of stroke are still undertreated — and awareness of stroke risk factors is low," says Brett Cucchiara, MD, Professor of Neurology at Penn Medicine. "There are simple steps that people can take to drastically reduce their risk of having a stroke." Here are five habits quietly raising your risk of stroke, according to doctors. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


High Blood Pressure

Health visitor and a senior man during home visit.

High blood pressure—also known as hypertension—is the leading cause of stroke in the U.S. "Hypertension is called the silent killer, because people often don't know they have it," says Dr. Cucchiara. "You can't feel it. It doesn't cause pain. So, people need to have their blood pressure checked. That's critical."



Doctor talking with an obese woman and measuring her.

Studies have shown that being overweight or obese can significantly raise the risk of having a  stroke. "Other research has convincingly shown that obesity is linked to coronary heart disease, but the stroke risk associated with weight gain has, until this study, been a debatable issue," says Tobias Kurth of Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH). "We were able to show that there is a quantifiable increase in your chances of having a stroke when you are overweight or obese. Our findings underscore the fact that your risk of stroke is modifiable when it comes to how much you weigh. The prevention of stroke may be another benefit associated with preventing excess weight and obesity in adults."


Binge Drinking Alcohol

refuse alcohol

There is plenty of evidence connecting the binge-drinking of alcohol to having a stroke. "The role of alcohol consumption in stroke risk has been widely studied. Many cohort and case-control studies have found an increased risk for hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes to be related to heavy alcohol consumption," according to a study published in Stroke.


High Cholesterol

closeup doctor's hand holding blood sample for cholesterol

Too much cholesterol in the blood can cause fatty deposits to build up in your arteries, which can cause arteries to stiffen and blood clots to form. "You can't feel whether you have high cholesterol, so you need to have that checked, too," says Dr. Cucchiara.


Illegal Drug Use

man holding a glass of alcohol and a handful of pills

Illegal drugs such as cocaine are strongly linked to a higher risk of stroke. "Cocaine is known to be an important risk factor for ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke in young individuals," according to an article published in Nature Clinical Practice Neurology. "In young stroke populations, illicit drug use has been reported in 12–33% of patients with stroke and is often implicated as the immediate cause of stroke; therefore, inquiring about and screening for illicit drug use is important, as such use is often underreported."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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