10 MODIFIABLE Risk Factors for Stroke

by Brie Darcy, PT, DPT

October 29th was World Stroke Day.

Almost a month later, the impact and awareness it created is still fresh in our mind.

This campaign, hosted by the World Stroke Organization, is a GLOBAL movement dedicated to stroke awareness and prevention. The World Stroke Organization embraces the vision of a world where people live free from the effects of stroke. This vision drives its global efforts to improve stroke prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and support.

This year’s World Stroke Day featured the slogan “Don’t Be the One” based on the eye-opening statistic that 1 in 4 adults will have a stroke.

This statistic was likely derived from a 2018 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine which estimated the global lifetime risk of a stroke to be approximately 25% for both men and women (from age 25 onward).1 While there is some geographic variability in this statistic, it unequivocally sounds a major global health alarm on the need to promote stroke awareness and reduce stroke risk.

While a stroke often occurs without warning, studies indicate the vast majority of strokes can be prevented. A 2016 article published in the Lancet found that 10 potentially modifiable stroke risk factors collectively accounted for 90% of global strokes.2 Risk factors are conditions that increase your risk of developing a disease. If risk factors are modifiable, it means you can take measures to change them.

In honor of World Stroke Day, below we review 10 Modifiable Risk Factors for Stroke.2-5

10 Modifiable Risk Factors for Stroke

High blood pressure (or Hypertension)

High blood pressure, which is experienced by more than 2/3 of individuals over age 65, is often considered the most important modifiable risk factor for stroke. While high blood pressure often has no symptoms, a quick test at your doctor’s office can determine if you are at risk.


Nearly half of strokes may be linked to poor diet and small improvements can make a substantial difference in reducing your risk. The American Heart Association recommends focusing your diet around vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, plant-based proteins, lean animal proteins, and fish.

Physical Inactivity

Physical inactivity is linked to a number of poor health effects, including stroke. To reduce your risk, the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity) each week. Exercise can take on many different forms. Find your favorite way to move and stick to it!


Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of stroke. Being overweight contributes to many other risk factors of stroke – including high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. If maintaining a healthy weight is challenging, talk to your health care team about a weight management plan.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (or AF) is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm and individuals with atrial fibrillation are 5 times more likely to have a stroke. With proper medical management of atrial fibrillation, the risk of AF-related strokes can be substantially decreased.


It is estimated that smoking contributes to 15% of all stroke deaths per year and individuals that smoke 20 cigarettes per day are 6 times more likely to have a stroke. Quitting smoking will reduce your risk of stroke (as well as other important diseases).


Excessive alcohol consumption is linked with increased stroke risk and is believed to contribute to over 1 million strokes globally per year.


Studies have shown a link between high levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and stroke. Cholesterol levels can be monitored with blood tests and, if elevated, can be managed with lifestyle modifications and/or medications.


Individuals with diabetes have a 2-fold increased risk of stroke and 1 in 5 people who have a stroke are also diabetic. Monitoring blood sugar levels and close adherence to a diabetes treatment plan is important for diabetes management. Screening for diabetes typically involves a simple blood test that can be performed at your doctor’s office.

Depression and Stress

A number of studies have indicated that increased psychosocial stress (including depression) is associated with increased stroke risk. Monitoring your mental health and seeking professional support when needed is important for moderating stroke risk.

With the right tools and mindset, YOU can take action to reduce your risk of stroke. For further assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to your medical team for individual guidance and support. We are grateful to the World Stroke Organization for their efforts towards stroke awareness and prevention. Click the link below to see some highlights of the worldwide effort!

Join the Movement for Stroke Prevention on World Stroke Day!


  1. Collaborators GBDLRoS, Feigin VL, Nguyen G, et al. Global, Regional, and Country-Specific Lifetime Risks of Stroke, 1990 and 2016. N Engl J Med. 2018;379(25):2429-2437.
  2. O’Donnell MJ, Chin SL, Rangarajan S, et al. Global and regional effects of potentially modifiable risk factors associated with acute stroke in 32 countries (INTERSTROKE): a case-control study. Lancet. 2016;388(10046):761-775.
  3. Boehme AK, Esenwa C, Elkind MS. Stroke Risk Factors, Genetics, and Prevention. Circ Res. 2017;120(3):472-495.
  4. World Stroke Organization. Stroke Risks and Prevention. https://www.world-stroke.org/world-stroke-day-campaign/why-stroke-matters/stroke-prevention/stroke-risks-and-prevention. Published 2020. Accessed October 28, 2020.
  5. American Heart Association. 8 Things You Can Do to Prevent Heart Disease and Stroke. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/prevent-heart-disease-and-stroke. Published 2020. Accessed October 28, 2020.
Share This