A stroke occurs due to a blockage of blood flow to a region in the brain or sudden bleeding in the brain. Having a family history of stroke may increase an individual’s stroke risk.

A stroke is a medical emergency, so a person should call 911 immediately if someone is experiencing symptoms.

This article explores whether there is a link between stroke and a person’s genetics, other risk factors, stroke prevention, and when to speak with a healthcare professional.

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A person’s risk of experiencing a stroke increases if their parents, grandparents, or siblings have had a stroke. The risk becomes higher if their family member’s stroke happened before they were age 65 years.

Additionally, a 2020 review indicated that genetic traits associated with stroke risk often relate to how the blood vessels develop and function. The authors suggested that a family history of stroke may be the main risk factor for experiencing a stroke at a young age.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) advises that genes that decide a person’s blood type also have links to stroke. Individuals with the uncommon blood type AB may have a higher stroke risk than people with other types.

Conditions linked to increased stroke risk

People with a family history of the following health conditions may also have an increased risk of a stroke:

  • Diabetes: According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), people with a family history of diabetes may have a higher risk of developing prediabetes and diabetes. This condition can increase a person’s risk of a stroke.
  • High blood pressure: The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that a family history of high blood pressure can increase an individual’s risk of developing it. High blood pressure causes artery damage throughout the body, making blood vessels more likely to burst or clog. Blood vessel damage in the brain, heart, and carotid arteries increases stroke risk.
  • Sleep apnea: The American Stroke Association (ASA) states that over half of all people who have a stroke have sleep apnea. The risk of sleep apnea increases by about 50% in the immediate relatives of those who have it.
  • Kidney disease: This condition can also increase stroke risk. Mutations in certain genes, such as MYH9 and APOL1, may increase a person’s risk of kidney disease. According to a 2017 review, having kidney disease may mean that a person is 5 to 30 times more likely to experience a stroke.
  • Sickle cell disease: Sickle cell disease is a genetic condition that causes sickle-shaped red blood cells that cannot carry oxygen around the body effectively. These cells are also sticky, meaning they can cling to artery walls and increase the risk of strokes.
  • Cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL): People with this rare condition inherit it through a mutation in a gene called Notch3. This mutation affects blood vessel development in the brain, causing thicker blood vessels that may block blood flow. Multiple strokes are a common symptom in people with CADASIL.
  • High cholesterol: Cholesterol levels are related to genetics and lifestyle. If a person has high cholesterol that they cannot manage through diet and exercise alone, they may need to take medication to lower their risk of vascular disease that can cause a stroke.
  • Brain aneurysms: Brain aneurysms are bulges in arteries in the brain that can stretch and burst, increasing the risk of a stroke. They can develop due to hereditary factors.
  • Congenital heart disease: Some people are born with congenital heart disease, or structural heart defects, that may increase the risk of stroke. Alongside other factors, a person’s genes may increase the risk of developing a heart defect.

People should speak with a doctor about how to prevent or manage the conditions abov to help reduce the risk of stroke and other complications.

Many other risk factors can influence stroke risk. A person can control some of these but not others.

Controllable risk factors

These include:

Risk factors outside of a person’s control

Family history is an uncontrollable risk factor for stroke. Other people with a higher stroke risk may include:

  • people over age 65 years
  • Black and Hispanic people, due to social structures that have reduced access to health facilities and information
  • people assigned female at birth
  • individuals with a history of heart attack, transient ischemic attack, or stroke

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service suggests the following may help prevent the likelihood of a stroke:

  • eating a low fat and high fiber diet
  • doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week
  • avoiding tobacco products or quitting smoking
  • reducing alcohol intake to less than 14 units per week, which is equivalent to about 6 pints of lower strength beer
  • managing underlying conditions that may contribute to stroke risk, such as diabetes and high blood pressure

A stroke is a medical emergency. Prompt treatment can save a person’s life.

People should call 911 if they or another person is experiencing any of the following symptoms:

Having a family history of stroke may increase a person’s risk of experiencing a stroke. Certain health conditions also increase the risk of a stroke.

People can take steps to manage any health conditions they have and other factors, including lack of exercise and smoking, that increase the risk of a stroke.

A stroke is a medical emergency. A person should call 911 immediately if they recognise someone is experiencing symptoms of a stroke.