Stroke risk factors. Risk of stroke and second stroke is influenced by a number of factors. The more stroke risk factors you have, the higher your chances of having a stroke.

They fall into three groups.

Stroke risk factors that you cannot control

  • Age – as you get older, your risk of stroke increases
  • Gender – stroke is more common in men
  • A family history of stroke

Medical stroke risk factors

Lifestyle stroke risk factors that you can control

High blood pressure and stroke

High blood pressure (hypertension) is the most important known risk factor for stroke. High blood pressure can cause damage to blood vessel walls, which may eventually lead to a stroke.

High cholesterol

High cholesterol (hyperlipidaemia/dyslipidaemia) – contributes to blood vessel disease, which often leads to stroke.

Cigarette smoking and stroke

Smoking can increase your risk of stroke or further stroke by increasing blood pressure and reducing oxygen in the blood.

Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 toxic chemicals which are deposited on the lungs or absorbed into the bloodstream. Some of these chemicals damage blood vessel walls, leading to atherosclerosis (narrowing and hardening of the arteries). This increases the chance of blood clots forming in the arteries to the brain and heart. Smoking also increases the stickiness of the blood. This further increases the risk of blood clots forming. Seek advice on how you can quit smoking as soon as possible by calling the QUIT line on 13 18 48.

Obesity or being overweight and stroke

Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of stroke. Too much body fat can contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and can lead to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. If you are unable to maintain your weight within recommended levels, ask a doctor or nutritionist for help.

Poor diet and lack of exercise

Being inactive, overweight or both can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

A balanced diet eating fresh foods where possible is recommended. It is also important to maintain a balance between exercise and food intake; this helps to maintain a healthy body weight.

People who take part in moderate activity are less likely to have a stroke. Try and build up to at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.

Talk to your doctor about an exercise program as people with high blood pressure should avoid some types of exercises.

Drinking too much alcohol

Alcohol and stroke: Drinking large amounts of alcohol (six or more standard drinks per day) increases your risk of stroke.

Last Reviewed: 15/02/2013

Reproduced with kind permission from the Stroke Foundation.


1. Stroke Foundation. Stroke risk factors. (accessed Oct 2013).