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Family History and Other Characteristics That Increase Risk for Stroke

A smiling family.

Stroke risk can be higher in some families than in others.

Family members share genes, behaviors, lifestyles, and environments that can influence their health and their risk for disease. Stroke risk can be higher in some families than in others, and your risk for stroke can increase based on your age, sex, and race or ethnicity.

Genetics and Family History

When members of a family pass traits from one generation to another through genes, that process is called heredity.

Genetic factors likely play some role in high blood pressure, stroke, and other related conditions. Several genetic disorders can cause a stroke, including sickle cell disease. It also is likely that people with a family history of stroke share common environments and other potential factors that increase their risk.

The risk for stroke can increase even more when heredity combines with unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking cigarettes and eating an unhealthy diet.

Find out more about genetics and disease on CDC’s Office of Public Health Genomics Web site.

Family health history is a record of the diseases and health conditions that occur in your family. Family health history is a useful tool for understanding health risks and preventing disease. To help people collect and organize their family history information, CDC’s Office of Public Health Genomics collaborated with the U.S. Surgeon General and other federal agencies to develop a Web-based tool called "My Family Health Portrait."

Other Characteristics

Both men and women can have a stroke. Some other characteristics that you cannot control, like your age, sex, and race or ethnicity, can affect your risk for stroke:

  • Age. Age is the single most important risk factor for stroke. The older you are, the more likely you are to have a stroke. The chance of having a stroke about doubles every 10 years after age 55. Although stroke is common among the elderly, many people younger than 65 years also have strokes.1
  • Sex. Stroke is more common in men than in women for most age groups. But women of all ages are more likely to die from stroke than are men. Pregnancy and use of birth control pills pose special stroke risks for women.1
  • Race or ethnicity. Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and Alaska Natives have a greater chance of having a stroke than do non-Hispanic whites or Asians. The risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for blacks than for whites. Blacks are also more likely to die from stroke than are whites.2

The good news is that most strokes can be prevented by working with your health care team to reduce your risk.

References

  1. American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Understanding Risk Web site. Accessed December 4, 2013.
  2. Go AS, Mozaffarian D, Roger VL, Benjamin EJ, Berry JD, Borden WB, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2013 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2012:e2–241.

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