4 Not-So-Common Indicators That You’re At Risk of Stroke

DS-6139 ASA Stroke Statistics_ExternalRevWhether or not you’re likely to have a stroke depends on many risk factors—some you can control and others you can’t.

Stroke is the third-leading cause of death for women and the fourth for men, says Amanda Conn, coordinator of Memorial’s Stroke Center and a registered nurse. Four out of five strokes could be prevented if patients had known about and appropriately managed the more common risk factors—cholesterol and blood pressure, for example.

However, other not-so-obvious factors may indicate you’re at risk of a stroke. In most cases, you can take action to reduce or eliminate these risks.

Depression. People with depression were 45 percent more likely to have a stroke than those who weren’t depressed, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They were also 55 percent more likely to die from that stroke. If you’re depressed, you’re more prone to not eat healthy meals, to get less exercise or to neglect your prescribed medication.

Diet soda. People who drank a daily diet soda were 43 percent more likely to have a stroke than people who didn’t drink soda, according to a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. That doesn’t mean you have to quit cold turkey, however, because the study found that people who occasionally drank diet soda were not at increased risk of stroke.

Irregular heart rhythm. If you have atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat of the heart’s upper two chambers, you have a major risk factor for stroke. Trouble is, many people don’t know they have it. Checking with your doctor is a good first step.

Migraines. Migraines preceded by flashes of lights, referred to as auras, can indicate an increased risk for stroke, according to a study of 28,000 U.S. women. These aura migraines were the second-strongest indicator to danger of stroke, according to a 2013 study published in the American Academy of Neurology.

With World Stroke Day approaching on Oct. 29, it’s a good time to remember that when a stroke does affect someone you love, it’s important to act FAST, which stands for Face, Arms, Speech, Time.

Here’s how the FAST screening works:

  • If you suspect someone may be having a stroke, you should first check for facial drooping—anything that’s different from one side of the face to the other, such as an uneven smile.
  • Next, have the person hold out their arms as if they’re holding a tray. If the person is unable to raise both arms evenly or if one arm is slightly drifting or numb, it could be a sign of trouble.
  • Does their speech sound strange? Ask the person to repeat simple phrases to test their speech. Slurred speech or difficulty repeating those phrases could be a sign of a stroke.
  • For the final step, note the time when the person was last seen without symptoms. Most important, call 911 immediately.