In a recent study, 1,000 people — half of whom had experienced either a heart attack or stroke — were asked what they thought were the most important risk factors for both.
Those who had experienced a heart attack thought that stress was the most important risk factor, followed by smoking and an unhealthy diet. Others who had never had a heart attack thought that the most important risk factor for heart attack was smoking, followed by stress and obesity.
People who had experienced a stroke named high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes as the most important risk factors, followed by stress and obesity. Others who had never had a stroke thought that smoking was most important, followed by stress and obesity.
So, how accurate were these individuals in their knowledge of stroke and heart attack risk factors?
The risk factors for both are very similar. Although stress, obesity and smoking are mentioned most often by patients as the most important risk factors for both heart attack and stroke, only smoking ranks as an important risk factor.
Current smokers are about 1.8 times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack than non-smokers. Former smokers are only 10 percent more likely to suffer those outcomes so it definitely pays to quit.
Other important risk factors for stroke and heart attack are diabetes, which carries the highest risk, followed by high blood pressure which increase risks by 2.4 and 1.8 times respectively. Elevated cholesterol increases the risk by 1.3 times.
There also are some powerful risk factors important for stroke, but not for heart attack. The risk of stroke is three times greater when an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, heart valve disease or both are present.
Patients who have a heart attack or congestive heart failure are also three times more likely to have a stroke. The presence of multiple risk factors increases an individual's risk for both so all risk factors must be considered together.
Free stroke screening
What: Baptist Health Lexington's annual free stroke screening, includes an assessment of blood pressure, pulse, blood glucose and total cholesterol, as well as a check for signs of narrowing in the carotid artery.
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. May 24
Where: Fayette Mall, near the interior entrance to Dillard's.
Paula Gisler is director of the Baptist Health Lexington Neuroscience Center.