Obesity May Increase Risk of Deadly Stroke, According to Research

obesity, stroke, obesity stroke risk

Obesity Increases Risk of Stroke, According to Research

May is National Stroke Awareness Month

Stroke is one of the top 5 causes of death in the United States for men and women. Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States suffers from a stroke. Each year, Americans suffer nearly 800,000 strokes, and of those, about 610,000 are the first attack. The remaining 185,000 are recurrent strokes.

Every year, about 140,000 people in the U.S. die from a stroke. That translates to about 1 in 20 deaths or one death every four minutes. Many other people end up with disabilities.

Strokes are not exclusive to the United States. Worldwide, 15 million people each year suffer from them. Five million of those people die, and another 5 million are left permanently disabled.

There are three different types of strokes. The first type is ischemic stroke. According to Stroke.org, ischemic strokes occur because of blocked blood flow to the brain. Ischemic strokes make up roughly 87% of all strokes.

The second type is hemorrhagic stroke. It happens when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or bursts.

Lastly, there is the transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is considered a mini-stroke. TIA strokes temporarily reduce blood flow to the brain. 

Risk Factors for Stroke

Many risk factors can make a person more likely to suffer a stroke. Some of them we can’t control.

According to Stroke.org, women are more likely than men to suffer from strokes. One possible reason for this is women typically live longer than men. Additionally, some forms of hormonal birth control (e.g., pills), pregnancy, preeclampsia, and hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptom relief may increase the risk of stroke.

If you have a family history of stroke, then you are more likely to suffer one yourself.

Another uncontrollable risk factor is age. One’s risk of having a stroke doubles each decade after age 55. Although strokes can and do occur at any age, about 75% of them occur in people over age 65.

Drinking too much alcohol can also predispose you to a stroke.

Smoking significantly increases the risk of having a stroke. It is important to note that the risk of an ischemic stroke in current smokers is almost double that of nonsmokers. 

Additionally, according to CommunityCare.com

“Smoking increases clot formation, thickens the blood, and increases the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries.”

The typical diet in the U.S. is also high in unhealthy fat and salt, added sugars, and refined grains – which are also detrimental to one’s health. In addition, a poor diet and lack of exercise can contribute to a stroke. These factors can lead to elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol (esp. LDL), diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. 

Your medical history can be a contributing factor; if you had a transient ischemic attack or TIA, your risk of stroke increases. Atrial fibrillation is another risk factor, as well as carotid and other artery diseases.

Sleep apnea and prior strokes also increase your risk.


When arteries narrow because of fatty deposits or plaque, they can become blocked, potentially leading to ischemic strokes.


Additional risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes. One-third of all U.S. adults have at least one of these conditions.


Excess Body Fat Increases Stroke Risk

Obesity is now considered a significant risk factor for ischemic stroke. A 2019 article published by Endocrine Advisor stated that excess abdominal fat (i.e., belly fat) increased the chances of an ischemic stroke. 

Researchers discovered that obesity stiffens or hardens the arteries, increasing pressure.

According to the American Heart Association, young obese adolescents have a higher chance of suffering from stroke and heart disease in their adult years. They also stated that the top two causes of death worldwide were heart disease and stroke.

The exact mechanisms in which obesity increases high blood pressure are currently being studied, but researchers from one study published in 2005 wrote:

“Obesity might lead to hypertension and cardiovascular disease by activating the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, by increasing sympathetic activity, by promoting insulin resistance and leptin resistance, by increased procoagulatory activity, and by endothelial dysfunction.”

Researchers from another study, published in 2013 wrote: 

“Our results show that the harmful effects of being overweight or obese on heart disease and stroke partly occur by increasing blood pressure, serum cholesterol, and blood glucose. Therefore, if we control these risk factors, for example through better diagnosis and treatment of hypertension, we can prevent some of the harmful effects of being overweight or obese,” Goodarz Danaei, MD, assistant professor of global health at Harvard School of Public Health, said in a press release.”

A 2012 article published by Reuters stated that very overweight and obese women had increased risks of developing blood clots that can lead to stroke. 

Chronic inflammation leads to many health problems, including high blood pressure. 

Researchers from one 2019 study stated that chronic inflammation-induced health problems are “the most significant cause of death in the world today.” 

Obesity promotes chronic inflammation in the body.

Getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity a few days a week could lower chronic inflammation and reduce body fat.

FAST Acronym for Recognizing a Stroke

People must recognize the signs and symptoms of strokes, which are summed up using the FAST acronym:

  • The F stands for face drooping. It could include an uneven smile, facial numbness, and visual disturbances. It is also important to recognize a sudden headache with no known cause.
  • The A stands for arm weakness. If a person holds both arms out in front of them, and one of the arms falls to their side, this could be a sign of a stroke. It also includes numbness (especially on one side of the body) or difficulty walking. Again, it’s important to recognize any dizziness, loss of balance, or loss of coordination.
  • The S stands for speech difficulty. This difficulty can include any changes in speech like slurring, sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, using the wrong words, and being unable to speak.
  • The T stands for time to call 911. Time is crucial in stroke treatment. If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from a stroke, call for help right away. You need to get to the emergency room immediately. It’s important to note that a person does not need to be suffering from all of these symptoms to be having a stroke; they may only present with one symptom.

It is critical to receive fast treatment if you are having a stroke. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stroke sufferers who make it to the ER within three hours of their initial symptoms suffer fewer disabilities three months after their stroke than individuals who delay receiving a diagnosis and treatment.

In a survey, 93% of people recognized sudden numbness on one side of the body as a stroke symptom, but only 38% of respondents identified the other symptoms or knew to call 911.

Final Thoughts

It is important to know your risk factors and be mindful of your chances of suffering a stroke. The most important risk factor is high blood pressure, so watch your diet and exercise several days a week to minimize your chances of having a stroke.

Most importantly, if you or someone you know is having a stroke, call 911 so they can receive immediate medical treatment.

To learn more:

If Someone is Having a Stroke: 3 Things To Do and 3 Things Not To Do

American Stroke Association

The Internet Stroke Center

Below is the F.A.S.T. acronym in action.


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