Almost 800,000 people in the United States suffer from a stroke every year, primarily for the first time, but there are also those who suffer from strokes recurrently. And, some of the leading causes of such incidents can be boiled down to your family history.
Strokes themselves cannot be passed down. However, if anyone in your family has suffered a stroke, then you are technically predisposed to the condition.
This is why one of the first questions doctors ask stroke-risk patients is whether they know anyone in their family who died of a stroke. Primarily, because you may have inherited certain genetic predispositions for stroke risk factors like high blood pressure or diabetes. But also, because you may have been influenced by the lifestyle of high stroke-risk family members.
Genetic Risk Factors of Strokes
High blood pressure and diabetes are considered ‘genetic’ risk factors that can cause a history of stroke in your family. See, just like how you may be predisposed for a stroke if one of your family members has had one, you may also be predisposed to develop hypertension or diabetes depending on your family history.
In the case of hypertension, a poor lifestyle may exacerbate the condition and cause stress on your nervous system — enough to potentially damage the arteries in your brain to the point of breaking, which can cause the, less common, but more fatal, hemorrhagic stroke.
Hypertension can also cause blood clots to form in the arteries leading up to your brain, which can cause the more common, but technically less fatal, ischemic stroke.
As for diabetes, it increases your risk of a stroke as it can cause damages to your blood vessels over time. Now, if, for example, that damage goes all the way to the small cerebral vessels in your brain, this can trigger both a hemorrhagic stroke or an ischemic stroke.
Of course, these aren’t the only ‘genetic’ risk factors that can increase your risk of stroke. However, they are the most prevalent.
According to a scientific journal on “Stroke Risk Factors, Genetics, and Prevention”, research has found that “a number of inflammatory disorders and cardiac atrial disorders” are now also considered stroke risk factors, along with a handful of “single-gene disorders that may cause, rare hereditary disorders for which stroke is a primary manifestation.”
‘Inherited’ Stroke Lifestyle Risks
As mentioned, another reason why doctors request a patient’s family history to determine stroke-risk is because the patient may have ‘inherited’ or, more aptly, been influenced by the unhealthy lifestyle of certain family members.
For example, did you know that teens who have parents that smoke are more likely to start smoking themselves? If the teen ‘inherits’ this unhealthy habit from their parents (or another family member), then their risk of a stroke has automatically increased.
Smoking cigarettes is one of the determined risk factors of a stroke. Primarily, because it can cause a condition called atherosclerosis. This is a condition that can result in narrowed or hardened blood vessels that may affect the passage of blood in the arteries of your brain.
Similarly, if you were raised on an unhealthy diet, this also can increase your risk of a stroke. As it will lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.
Other risk factors that you may have inherited from the unhealthy habits of your family members include drinking alcohol, lack of physical activity, obesity, illegal drug use, and so on.
Most of these risk factors are what people call ‘modifiable’ risk factors. So, if you so choose, you can decrease your risk by making healthier lifestyle choices. Doing so can stay the progression of a stroke as a result of other risk factors that you can’t control.
Final Thoughts: Your Family History May Increase Risk of Stroke!
The important takeaway here is to know that, yes, if you have family members who have suffered, or perhaps even died, because of a stroke, then your risk for one does increase.
However, there is no reason to despair. If you act now, you can begin making changes that will decrease your risk of a stroke. Primarily, by paying attention to the modifiable risks that we mentioned earlier — like smoking, drinking alcohol, or eating unhealthily.
It also pays to stay vigilant by learning the most common symptoms of a stroke. And that goes for other members in your household do as well — so that they may be able to act quickly should the need ever arise in the future.
- Boehme, Amelia K., et al. “Stroke Risk Factors, Genetics, and Prevention.” Circulation Research, vol. 120, no. 3, Mar. 2017, pp. 472–495., doi:10.1161/circresaha.116.308398.