Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Are strokes hereditary?"
My grandfather died due to complications from a stroke. My aunt on my mom's side also had a stroke a year ago. Are they hereditary? Does this mean I will end up having a stroke some day?
It can be very unsettling to discover that your parents, grandparents, or other close family members have a potentially hereditary disease that could affect you. In fact, this is why it is very important to have regular follow-up with a primary care physician so that he or she can go over your family history and help you modify risk factors in your own life given the genetic background you likely inherited. In the case of strokes, we do know that there is a hereditary component of several of the risk factors that lead to strokes. Unlike a disease like cancer, a stroke is not a primary disease. Instead, it is a consequence of something else, most often vascular disease that leads to plaque formation on the inside of blood vessels. These plaques can then break off and travel to the blood vessels in the brain where they stops blood flow and lead to the clinical manifestation of a stroke. As a result, people with a family history of stroke should have their cholesterol levels and blood pressure monitored carefully. As with heart disease, it is very important to maintain a healthy (low-fat, low-cholesterol, high-vegetable/whole grain) diet and obtain adequate exercise. Just because family members have had a stroke does NOT mean that you will have a stroke, but it does mean that you might be at higher risk for having one than a person who does not have the family history. Your doctor can help you go over your lifestyle to help reduce these risk factors as much as possible.
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