Are Strokes Hereditary? Everything You Need to Know

These days, with genetics essentially being mentioned every where, it is completely safe to assume that any disease is either hereditary and/or genetic. There is no reason why a stroke would be an exception. However, before we go into the discussion of whether or not strokes are hereditary, let’s take a few steps back and look at what stroke actually is.Before we take a look at what a stroke is, let’s also quickly dive into what defines something as hereditary. You may think you know the definitions of these, and you may be right. But, just in case you need a refresher, both parts will be covered first before we finally decide.

As with heart disease, a stroke is defined as a condition that involves impaired health of arteries such as blood clots that are leading to and within the brain. Blood vessels are responsible for carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain. If these blood vessels are either blocked by a clot or, if they burst, there is a disruption of the flow of oxygen to the brain. In other words, the brain is not getting enough oxygen to function. This, in turn, causes brain cells to die and that may lead to a stroke. The events that lead up to the stroke are divided up into two different kinds of strokes. An ischemic stroke is said to happen if a blood clot is obstructing the flow of blood to the brain. On the other hand, if a blood vessel ruptures and blood access to the brain is blocked that way, this is termed hemorrhagic stroke. There’s also something called a transient ischemic attack (TIA) that is caused by a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain. So, the brain is a pretty darn complex organ, which is why any interruption of oxygen arriving at it is a big deal. Prolonged lack of oxygen to the brain will cause it to begin losing function and this becomes visible immediately as certain body parts begin to give in as a result.

It is estimated that nearly 80% of all strokes can be prevented via lifestyle changes of those who are a stroke risk. Some of these include prevention or control of blood pressure, maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding tobacco, regular physical activity, weight loss, controlling blood sugar levels and high blood pressure as well as cholesterol management. All of these will reduce the risk factors involved with getting a stroke.

Now that we have looked into strokes and the risk factors a little, let’s briefly discuss the concept of hereditary. It is not very complicated. Basically, diseases whose mutations are passed on through generations are termed hereditary.

 

 termed hemorrhagic stroke.

And now that we know a bit about both, we can ask if strokes are hereditary. The answer is yes and no. The most frequent cause of a stroke is uncontrolled high blood pressure as well as a long list of other conditions all of which affect one’s propensity to suffer from a stroke. And many of these diseases are hereditary. So, perhaps a better question to ask is whether or not strokes are hereditary by proxy? The question is yes, they are. The list of conditions that may be causes of a stroke is long. It is separated into noninflammatory and inflammatory blood vessel disorders, hematological blood disorders and a few others. Also, on the list of things that may increase one’s chances of a stroke are infection, pollution as well as cardiac atrial disorders. Also, single-gene disorders that trigger rare, hereditary conditions that manifest themselves as strokes are on the list, too. There is also some research that has looked into mutations that increase the risk of conditions whose primary manifestation is a stroke.

By virtue of a stroke being caused by a hereditary or rare condition, the first step in the diagnosis is a physical exam that encompasses a detailed look into the patient’s medical history. This also includes diagnostic procedures that revolve around brain imaging such as magnetic resonance as well as computed tomography.

Along similar lines, treatment paradigms revolve not only around treating a stroke, but also addressing the underlying causes that have led to it.

Furthermore, by virtue of a stroke being caused by all these hereditary diseases whereby manifestation is the occurrence of strokes, it is not wrong to say that strokes are hereditary, just not straightforwardly so. But perhaps this brings up the issue of hereditary versus genetic. Perhaps there are genetic factors for the disease that cause a stroke. If they are hereditary, presumably so is the risk of stroke. However, there are also environmental factors that are not genetic, such as lifestyle and diet, both of which affect heart health that is closely tied to the risk of strokes. For example, parents who lead an unhealthy and inactive lifestyle are more likely to teach their kids the same habits. And since both generations are living lifestyles that will make them more prone to suffering from a stroke, one can say that stroke is hereditary in such a sense.

To touch upon the very first paragraph of this post a bit more, the part about almost everything being either genetic or hereditary these days, let’s be philosophical for a few sentences. There are environmental factors that will lead to spontaneous mutations that will, in turn, lead to certain conditions. And let’s assume that two generations live in that very environment and are, as such, equally predisposed to the risk of a stroke, it might be safe to assume that these spontaneous mutations might be passed on to subsequent mutations. In other words, they might become hereditary, which is another way for stroke to become hereditary as well.

So, all this to say that there are several ways to look at strokes in terms of their hereditary aspect. In other words, the original question is not so easy to answer. Are strokes hereditary? Yes, they are. Are strokes genetic? That’s not so certain.

Laura Day
 

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