older man at the doctor's office Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability and the fifth leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Nearly 75 percent of strokes occur in people over 65.

The risk of serious health complications increases with age, so it’s important for older adults to know what may contribute to having a stroke. Consider the following five risk factors.

1. High Blood Pressure

This reading measures the pressure of blood circulating within the blood vessels. The top number is systolic blood pressure – the amount of pressure when the heart contracts – and the bottom number is diastolic blood pressure – the pressure between heartbeats. A normal reading is 120/80; blood pressure is considered high when the systolic number is above 130.

Older adults can lower blood pressure by leading a healthier lifestyle:

  • Reduce salt intake
  • Lower cholesterol intake
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • 30 minutes of daily activity

2. Excess Body Weight

Being overweight often leads to further health complications, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Maintain a healthy weight for your body type and get regular exercise.

3. Atrial Fibrillation

AF is an irregular heartbeat that can lead to the formation of blood clots. When these clots travel from the heart to the brain, stroke can occur. If diagnosed with this condition, it can be managed with a doctor-prescribed blood thinner to reduce clot risk.

4. Diabetes

High blood sugar can seriously damage the blood vessels and lead to clots. Similar to AF, mismanagement of diabetes could send these clots to the brain and cause stroke. Diet and exercise can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

5. Drinking Diet Soda

Stroke, the American Heart Association’s scientific journal, published a study about the effects of drinking diet soda. Over 81,000 women between ages 50 and 79 were studied over a 12-year period. Those who drank more than two diet sodas per day were 23 percent more likely to have a stroke.

Because correlation does not mean causation, the habit of drinking diet soda may increase a woman’s likelihood of having a stroke but other factors should be taken into consideration.
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