Genomics and Health
Stroke is a leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in the United States. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is blocked, or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, causing damage to a part of the brain.
Some health conditions and behavioral and lifestyle factors can put individuals at a higher risk for stroke. Important risk factors include high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and cigarette smoking.
Individuals can help prevent a stroke by making behavioral and lifestyle changes that lower their risk.
Genetics and family history
Genes play a role in the development of risk factors that can lead to a stroke, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and vascular conditions. An increased risk for stroke within a family may also be due to common behavioral factors, such as a sedentary lifestyle or poor eating habits. Thus, family health history is an important tool for identifying people at increased risk for stroke because it reflects both an individual’s genes and shared environmental risk factors.
In a 2003 study in Utah, 86% of all early strokes occurred in just 11% of families. This shows that a relatively small sub-set of families in the population with history of stroke account for the majority of cases. These families may benefit the most from screening and lifestyle interventions.1
Stroke also occurs as a complication of several genetic disorders, the most common of these being sickle cell disease. Other genetic disorders such as CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy) have stroke as the primary feature, but these disorders are quite rare. Research in inherited diseases that include stroke is providing insights into how genes contribute to stroke risk with the goal of developing new approaches for prediction, prevention, and treatment of the disease.
1Hunt, SC, Gwinn, M, Adams, TD. 2003. Family History Assessment, Strategies for Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 24(2):136-141.