How to reduce your risk of stroke

Lesley Dobson / 29 August 2014

Getting the right treatment fast is crucial after a stroke, but reducing your risk is vital too.

There are some conditions that we know increase our risk of having a stroke – atrial fibrillation (where your heart beats erratically), and high blood pressure for instance, but the health of your siblings could also be relevant. Recent research shows that if one of your brothers or sisters had a stroke you could be 60 percent more likely to have one as well.

Genetic risk of stroke

Research was undertaken into the hospital discharge and cause of death records of 30,735 Swedish people who had a sibling who had a stroke and those of 152,391 adults who didn’t. On average, the people in the study were 64 years old when their brother or sister had an ischaemic stroke (when the blood supply to your brain is blocked by a blood clot). These account for about 90% of strokes.

The results show that a stroke is 64% more likely if a full sibling is affected, and 41% more likely if a half sibling has had a stroke. If your sibling’s stroke happened when they were aged 55 or younger, you are 94% more likely to have one at a similarly early age.

“Health professionals should pay as much attention to a family history of stroke in siblings as in parents, and make patients aware that a genetic predisposition exists,” said study author Erik Ingelsson, professor of cardiovascular epidemiology at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. “The gender of either sibling did not influence the stroke risk.”

What you can do to reduce your risk of stroke

However, he said that the increased risk may not only be down to shared genes, but could also be linked to similar lifestyle habits within families. “If your sibling has had a stroke, it should motivate you to take more preventive actions and to pay more attention to lifestyle habits such as diet, exercise and blood pressure control,” said Ingelsson. The study was published in the American Heart Association journal, Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics.

Act fast if you suspect a stroke

At the moment only about 2-5% of people receive thrombolytic (clot-busting) treatment), the only kind currently on offer for acute ischaemic stroke. This low figure is due mainly to the length of time it takes for the patient to reach a hospital: the treatment has to be given within four and a half hours of the first symptoms for it to be effective. And before having the treatment every patient must have CT scans of their brain to confirm that their stroke has been caused by a blood clot.

“When a stroke strikes time lost is brain lost, meaning that getting urgent medical attention quickly is absolutely essential,” said Nikki Hill from The Stroke Association. “Treating suspected stroke patients at the site of the emergency is an interesting development and it could help speed up the whole treatment process for some patients.”

FAST stands for

Facial weakness – has the person’s face drooped, usually down one side?

Arm weakness – is the person able to lift both arms above their head?

Speech problems – does the person’s speech sound slurred?

Time to call 999 – if one or more of these symptoms are present call an ambulance immediately.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.