Can Your Stress Lead to a Stroke?


According to a Gallup poll released in 2019, Americans are among the most stressed people in the world. We are connected to our smartphones 24/7, and we seldom take vacations. Can all this stress put you at risk for a stroke?

Stress is also very personal. Some people can handle high-stress situations, while others may not be able to function under stress.

Andrew J. Ringer, MD, Chairman of Mayfield Brain and Spine, says there isn’t an easy answer to that question. He says, “There are no studies that directly link stress to a stroke, but stress is a factor in heart rate and blood sugar rate. Then you could develop diseases that put you at risk for a stroke, including high blood pressure and diabetes.”

Stress is also known to lead to unhealthy behaviors that can increase your risk for a stroke, including:

  • Excessive drinking
  • Smoking
  • Overeating

Dr. Ringer explains, “If you are constantly exposed to stress and respond to it with unhealthy behaviors, we call those modifiable risk factors. Meaning, you can change your lifestyle to reduce your risk.”

Risk Factors to Watch

If you are under constant stress, there are some risk factors you can monitor and measure to see if you are at increased risk.

  • Blood Pressure—Check your blood pressure regularly. A score of 120/80 is optimal, and 140/90 is considered stage two hypertension. If your numbers are elevated, talk to your doctor.
  • Blood Sugar—High blood sugar increases your risk of diabetes, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. An HbA1c test gives you a picture of your average blood sugar over a 2- to 3-month period. An A1c under 5 is considered normal; an elevated A1c is over 6.4.

“Although you can monitor blood pressure and blood sugar, and modify your lifestyle, there are often no warning signs before you have a stroke,” says Dr. Ringer. “There are two types of strokes: ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke. The risk factors are the same, and both can rear their ugly head with no warning.”

Recognizing a Stroke—BE FAST©

The acronym BE FAST© is a simple tool to help you quickly recognize the signs of a stroke. Remember this, so you know when to take action to help yourself or a loved one:

  • Balance – Sudden loss of balance or coordination.
  • Eyes – Sudden blurred or double vision or persistent vision trouble.
  • Face – One or both sides of the face drooping.
  • Arms – Weakness or numbness on one side.
  • Speech – Slurred or garbled speech, or difficulty repeating simple phrases.
  • Time – Call 911 for immediate medical attention and take note of when the symptoms began.

Dr. Ringer says, “It is important for everyone to know the signs and symptoms so they can recognize it in someone else. If you are the one having the stroke, you may not be able to communicate.”

Why Time is Important in Stroke Care

Time is an important factor because quick action is key to treatments that can reverse or prevent permanent disability.

“You need to get treatment within six hours of the onset of symptoms,” says Dr. Ringer. “It can also ensure that you get to a facility that can offer advanced stroke treatments.”

St. Elizabeth Healthcare and Mayfield Brain and Spine are working together to make sure advanced stroke care is available at more facilities across the tri-state area.

Dr. Ringer says, “By having immediate access to advanced diagnostics and an endovascular surgeon, we can make a dramatic difference for patients with stroke—in their recoveries and their lives.”

If you think you or a loved one is having a stroke—remember BE FAST© and call 911.

BE FAST was developed by Intermountain Healthcare, as an adaption of the FAST model implemented by the American Stroke Association. Reproduced with permission from Intermountain Healthcare. © 2011 Intermountain Healthcare. All rights reserved.