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Stroke: Diabetes and Other Risk Factors

The diabetes-stroke connection

Highlights

  1. Diabetes can increase your risk for stroke.
  2. Simple lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk for stroke.
  3. Other risk factors for stroke include age, race, and gender.

Diabetes can increase your risk for many health conditions, including stroke. In general, people with diabetes are 1.5 times more likely to have a stroke than people without diabetes.

People with diabetes are often left with too much sugar in their blood. That’s because their body is often unable to maintain the delicate balance that insulin plays in helping blood cells create energy from sugar. Over time, this excess sugar can lead to the buildup of clots or fat deposits inside vessels that supply blood to the neck and brain.

If these deposits grow, they can cause a narrowing of the blood vessel wall or even a complete blockage. When blood flow to your brain stops for any reason, a stroke occurs.

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Stroke

What is a stroke?

Stroke is a condition in which blood vessels in the brain are damaged. Strokes are characterized by a number of factors, including where in the brain blood vessels have been damaged and what event actually caused the damage.

The main types of stroke are ischemic stroke, hemorrhagic stroke, and transient ischemic attack (TIA).

Ischemic stroke

Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke. It occurs when an artery that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the brain is blocked, most often by a blood clot. About 87 percent of strokes are ischemic strokes.

Hemorrhagic stroke

Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when an artery in the brain leaks blood or ruptures. Approximately 15 percent of strokes are hemorrhagic strokes. Hemorrhagic strokes can be very serious, and are responsible for about 40 percent of stroke-related deaths.

Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

A TIA is sometimes called a ministroke because the blood flow to the brain is blocked for a minute or so. Rarely, it can be blocked for more than 5 minutes. A TIA is an ischemic stroke, but a very short-lived one. You shouldn’t ignore, it and you should consider it a warning. People often refer to a TIA as a "warning stroke."

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Symptoms

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a stroke is a crucial first step to getting someone help before it is too late. In an effort to help people remember how to recognize a stroke, the American Stroke Association created the mnemonic FAST, which stands for

  • face drooping
  • arm weakness
  • speech difficulty
  • time to call 911 or your local emergency services

Other symptoms that can signal a stroke include sudden:

  • numbness or weakness of the face, an arm, or a leg, especially if it’s only on one side
  • confusion
  • trouble speaking
  • trouble understanding speech
  • difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
  • dizziness
  • a loss of balance or coordination
  • trouble walking
  • a severe headache for no known reason

If you think you’re experiencing a stroke, call 911 or your local emergency services immediately. A stroke is a life-threatening condition.

Read more: Stroke symptoms »

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Risk factors

What are the risk factors for stroke?

Medical risk factors for stroke include:

  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • atrial fibrillation
  • high cholesterol
  • sickle cell disease
  • circulation problems
  • carotid artery disease

Your chance of stroke is higher if you have one or more of these medical risk factors.

Lifestyle risk factors include:

  • poor diet and nutrition
  • not getting enough physical activity
  • any tobacco use or smoking
  • excess alcohol use

The risk of stroke increases with age, nearly doubling for each decade over the age of 55. Race plays a part in stroke risk, with African-Americans having a greater risk of death from stroke than Caucasians. Gender also factors into the equation, with women experiencing more strokes than men. Also, having a stroke, heart attack, or TIA increases your risk of having another stroke.

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Prevention

How can you reduce your risk of stroke?

Certain well-known risk factors for stroke, like genetics, age, and family history are outside of your control. You can reduce other risk factors by making certain lifestyle changes.

Take a look at the medical and lifestyle risk factors and ask yourself what you can do to help reduce your risk of stroke.

Change your diet

High blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase your risk of stroke. You might be able to reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels by making changes to your diet and nutrition. Try the following:

  • Lower your intake of salt and fats.
  • Eat more fish in place of red meat.
  • Eat foods with lower amounts of added sugar.
  • Eat more vegetables, beans, and nuts.
  • Replace white bread with bread made of whole grains.

Exercise

Exercising five or more times per week can help reduce your risk of stroke. Any exercise that gets your body moving is good exercise. A daily, brisk walk can lower your risk of stroke and help give you a more positive outlook on life in general.

Don’t smoke

If you smoke, talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs or other things you can do to help you quit smoking. The risk of stroke doubles for people who smoke versus people who don’t smoke.

The most effective way to quit smoking is to just stop. If that’s not for you, consider asking your doctor about the various aids that are available to help you kick the habit.

Limit how much alcohol you drink

If you drink alcohol, try to limit your intake to no more than two drinks per day if you’re a man or one drink per day if you're a woman. Researchers have linked regularly drinking large quantities of alcohol to an increased risk of stroke.

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Outlook

What is the outlook?

While you’ll never be able to eliminate all of your risks of stroke, you can reduce some risks and increase the chance that you’ll live a long, healthy stroke-free life. Here are some tips:

  • Work with your doctor to manage your diabetes.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Add regular exercise to your routine.

If you think you’re having a stroke, seek emergency help right away.

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