A stroke occurs whenever the brain is damaged by a diseased artery supplying blood to that part of the brain.

What is the average age for a stroke?

The majority of strokes happen to people who are 65 or older. However, the average age for stroke is getting younger and younger every year—in the US, as many as 10 percent of people who experience a stroke are under the age of 45. Stroke is no longer exclusively a disease of older people.

Is there a link between strokes and heart attacks?

Stroke doesn’t work the same way as multiple sclerosis or ALS, which primarily affect the nervous system. Instead, stroke patients actually have damage to their arteries, which is a vascular problem, and the stroke is just a symptom. The arteries become damaged by the inflammation, cholesterol, and high blood pressure that comes with unhealthy living.

The likelihood of a person having a stroke is connected to metabolic syndrome. This is a combination of high blood pressure, prediabetes/diabetes, a negative cholesterol profile, and a large waist. One doesn’t have to have all these risk factors to meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome; just three will do. Unfortunately, as the average American's weight increases, so too does their risk of metabolic syndrome and stroke.

All these conditions increase the risk of damage to anything in the body that is supplied by arteries – not only stroke, but also heart attack, heart failure, and kidney disease. Decreased blood flow to the arms and legs, retinal damage, dementia, erectile dysfunction, and even hair loss in the lower parts of the legs can also occur. It’s unusual to see a person with stroke and none of these other diseases.

What can you do to reduce your stroke risk?

Most stroke risk is self-induced and can be modified by changing one’s lifestyle. This is accomplished primarily through diet. Some things are out of our immediate control – you can’t change your genes or the environment. However, stroke risk is reduced by healthy living. The tips below are at the core of not only stroke prevention, but the prevention of many other medical problems.

There are a lot of “healthy” diets out there. Some that have shown evidence specifically for stroke prevention are the Mediterranean and DASH diets. It’s not clear which is best, but what ties all these diets together are a few key principles:

  • Eating more plants and less animal products
  • Avoiding processed food with a lot of sugar, salt, and other additives
  • Minimizing the consumption of simple sugars and white carbohydrates (white bread, white pasta, white rice, white potatoes, sugary snacks)

We eat processed food and animal products only because they taste good, not because our body needs them in any way. This doesn’t mean one should avoid all sugar and go 100 percent vegan. There are no bad foods, simply foods that provide more nutritional value than others. Having wild caught grilled salmon is probably better than a marbled steak. But a quinoa salad with a vinaigrette dressing is even better. An organic, low sugar gummy snack would be better than a pint of ice cream, but not as good as a whole piece of fruit.

It’s not about being perfect—it’s about making better choices most of the time. Here are some tips to make healthy eating easier:

  • Don’t keep food that’s bad for you in the house. If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. You’re also less likely to make a trip to the store just for one snack.
  • Avoid grocery shopping when you’re hungry or tired.
  • Try eating five different colors a day to get a variety of nutrients. (Food dyes don’t count!)
  • Plan to have healthy meals with others. This makes spending time with friends a priority in an increasingly digital world.
  • Bring lunch to work or school. 
  • Opt for plants and whole grains that provide protein instead of relying on meat, dairy, or eggs every day. These options can provide all the protein you need every day.
  • Make it a point to have something that you love once in a while.

Start slowly with  making lifestyle changes to improve your cardiovascular health and lower your risk of stroke. Visit the Nourishing section of the Lifespan Living health and wellness blog for more ideas on building healthy behaviors. 


Comprehensive Stroke Center Team

The Comprehensive Stroke Center at Rhode Island Hospital is the only site in the state to be designated as a Comprehensive Stroke Center by The Joint Commission. The expert team provides care to more than 1,700 patients with stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) each year.