How Obesity Affects Stroke Risk

December 12, 2017

Each year, nearly 800,000 Americans have a stroke. For 610,000 of those people, it’s their first. For 140,000 people, the stroke will prove fatal. Many of these stroke events rob victims of physical and mental capabilities and can be influenced by factors like excess weight and obesity.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke

While the risk of stroke increases with age, more than a third of all stroke events occur in people under 65. Warning signs and symptoms can vary, depending on the area of the brain affected, but all symptoms and warning signs should be treated as an emergency. The person suffering a stroke may suddenly:

  • have trouble understanding simple words, sentences or questions;
  • have difficulty speaking, pronouncing common words or expressing simple ideas;
  • be unable to move a portion of their face or body;
  • experience numbness or tingling in a portion of their face or body;
  • lose all or a part of their vision;
  • become weak, dizzy or unsteady;
  • fall; or
  • complain of a severe, otherwise unexplained headache.


While some people may be predisposed to having a stroke, doctors agree that, in many cases, the risk of stroke can be lowered with a healthy weight and lifestyle. Typically, medical science recognizes two types of stroke:

  • Hemorrhagic. A blood vessel leading to or within the brain leaks or ruptures.
  • Ischemic. A blood vessel leading to or within the brain becomes blocked or clogged.

Effects of Obesity

The link between excess weight and an increased likelihood of stroke is unmistakable. Repeated studies estimate that each unit increase in body mass index (BMI) increases the risk of stroke by 5 percent. With a baseline BMI of 20, this means that a person with a BMI of 30, for example, increases their risk of stroke by 50 percent.

The brain relies on two pairs of arteries in the neck for its blood flow: the carotid arteries and the vertebral arteries, which branch into an intricate network that feeds all the different areas of the brain. This portion of the circulatory system is particularly susceptible to many of obesity’s secondary medical conditions and contributing factors:

  • high blood pressure—the leading cause of stroke,
  • sleep apnea and sleep disturbances,
  • diabetes,
  • enlargement of the heart and
  • metabolic disorders.

All of these medical conditions affect the circulatory system by constricting blood flow, increasing inflammation and adding stressors to blood vessel walls.

Reducing the Risk of Stroke

Shedding excess weight can reduce the risk of stroke. It can also improve many of the secondary conditions associated with obesity that are known to contribute to strokes. If you or a loved one struggle with excess weight and its associated health risks, Acadiana Weight Loss Surgery can help. Our highly trained staff is devoted to helping patients develop healthier, happier lives. Visit our website, or call 337-233-9900.