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Stroke Genetics And Risk Factors


What Is A Stroke?

A stroke is a cerebrovascular disease that is characterized by blocking and occlusion of blood vessels in the brain. It is a common complication of cardiovascular disease. From a genetic point of view, it follows a involves the interaction of many genes combined with environmental causes. It is the third leading cause of death worldwide. In America, approximately 795,000 cases of stroke are reported yearly. About 137,000 Americans die from stroke each year. The genetics, effect of inheritance and risk factors of stroke are discussed below.

Pathology Of Stroke

Ischemic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke

Most vascular diseases lead to thickening and hardening of blood vessels. Sometimes, cholesterol and other fats accumulate within the vessels. Hence, plaques are formed. Afterward, the plaques break off and travel to distant vessels. If one of these plaques travels to a blood vessel in the brain, the blood supply through it is no longer smooth and faces resistance. This condition is called Ischemic stroke and accounts for 80% of all strokes. If blood drains into the surrounding neural tissues then the resulting condition is called a hemorrhagic stroke. The brain cells die rendering the patient incapable of moving or feeling on one side of the body.

Types Of Stroke

As already discussed, there are two main types of stroke:

Types Of Stroke
Types Of Stroke
  • Ischemic stroke(due to blockage of an artery)
  • Hemorrhagic stroke(due to bleeding in the brain)

Is Stroke Inheritable?

You have a lot in common with your family. From similar surnames to resembling features, you share the same behavior, environment, lifestyle, personality, and genes. As we know that many serious illnesses like cancer, hypertension and high blood pressure have a genetic cause, stroke too tends to run in certain families and can be inherited. Thus, if a loved one or a relative has suffered one, you have good reason to blame your genetic code.
There is substantial research that supports the role of genetics in its manifestation.

  • A 2008 University of Utah study indicated that out of all strokes that occurred in individuals above 75, 86% of them occurred in just 11% of the families.
  • A 2010 Boston University study revealed that children whose parents had had a stroke before 65 were more likely to suffer from one themselves as compared to other children with healthy parents. When researchers ruled out traditional risk factors (tobacco smoking, high BP, diabetes, and other CV conditions) that were present, these participants still had double the risk of having a stroke at any age and four times the risk of having it before age 65 than others with no such genetic history.
  • A 2011 Oxford University study indicated that if the father had a stroke, then his children all had an equal possibility of having a stroke. On the other hand, daughters had a higher chance of having a stroke than sons if the mother suffered from a stroke. To explain this behavior, study sex-linked inheritance.

The role of genetics can be clarified by the fact that Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and Alaska Natives are more susceptible to stroke than Non-Hispanic Whites and Asians.

Who Is At A Higher Risk Of Stroke?

  • Smokers are at a higher risk than non-smokers.
  • Younger people suffer from a stroke more often than the elderly. This is due to increased blood pressure and obesity among the young.
  • Women suffer from a stroke more often than men. Pregnancy and poor diet are the causal agents.
  • Eating a diet rich in Trans Fats and sodium (found in packaged foods) can increase the blood pressure and cholesterol levels. So people addicted to junk and fried foods are more susceptible to stroke.
  • Individuals who lead a sedentary lifestyle ( poor diet, lesser physical activity) are at a higher risk of developing a stroke.
  • Many diseases may also lead to this condition. Other genetic illnesses may contribute to its development. Some examples are provided below:
  1. Hypertension
  2. High blood pressure
  3. Obesity
  4. Atrial fibrillation
  5. Sickle cell disease
  6. Atrial Fibrillation
  7. CADASIL(Cerebral Autosomal Dominant Arteriopathy with Subcortical Infarcts and Leukoencephalopathy)
  8. Coronary artery disease
  9. Untreated cases of Celiac disease
  10. Migrainous stroke
  11. Cerebral Venous Thrombosis

Symptoms Of Stroke

Symptoms of Stroke
Symptoms of Stroke

If you are aware that you have inherited the genes responsible for a stroke, then it might do you good to know the symptoms of this condition. However, bear in mind that it shows a multifactorial pattern of inheritance. Social and environmental factors also play a role in the manifestation of disease symptoms. Some symptoms are listed below:

  • One-sided paralysis of the body
  • Loss of vision
  • Problems in cognitive function
  • Severe headache
  • Pneumonia
  • Loss of bladder control
  • The feeling that the world is spinning
  • Previous TIA (ministroke in which symptoms last for only 1-2 hrs)

Preventive Measures

It can be very troubling to know that a certain disease runs in your family and you are susceptible to it. But you must stay positive and visit your physician for regular checkups. Thus, your physician will review your family history and suggest some preventive measures to reduce the risk. At the same time, you must remember that it is not compulsory that you will have a stroke just because a family member has had it. Researchers find it baffling that some individuals don’t suffer from one while their family members with similar genetic and social background die of it. Listed below are some ways to reduce the risk of this malady:


  • Visit your family doctor for regular follow-ups to have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels monitored.
  • Plan a diet low in fats and high in carbs.
  • Include vegetables, fish and dietary fiber in your everyday meals.
  • Stay away from processed red meat.
  • Make a habit of exercising at least 30 mins daily. Exercise reduces the risk of stroke by 25%.
  • Avoid tobacco smoking and excessive drinking. Active or passive smoking can increase the risk of having a stroke by 30%.
  • Obesity is also a serious cause especially among young people.
  • Don’t lead a sedentary lifestyle. Research has shown that the poor are at a higher risk of dying from a stroke than the affluent. This is due to poor diet, dirty sanitary conditions and smoking among the impoverished.


If stroke runs in your family, then it is alright for you to feel a bit scared. But remember that it follows a multifactorial pattern of inheritance. Therefore, you can choose to reduce your own potential risk. You can fight this demon that you have fallen heir to. Look him in the eye. Make healthier choices in your everyday life. Hit the gym. Stay in shape. At all costs, hang in there, pal!


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