While most people still think men suffer more strokes than women do, the reverse is actually true: 425,000 women suffer from a stroke every year, 55,000 more than men. Stroke is the third-leading cause of death for women, behind heart disease and cancer. Several factors unique to women appear to raise their risk for stroke, according to a statement published in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke.
Strokes, like heart attacks, often are caused by blocked or partially blocked blood vessels to the brain. High cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, depression, obesity and high blood pressure raise the prospect of having a stroke. Prevention for everyone includes regular exercise, plenty of fruits and vegetables and avoiding smoking, obesity and high blood pressure.
While women and men have some of the same risks for stroke, women face additional concerns due to high blood pressure combined with pregnancy, childbirth and hormones. Pre-eclampsia, a syndrome caused by high blood pressure during pregnancy, also raises a woman's lifetime risk for stroke.
New stroke-prevention guidelines include:
- Before taking birth control pills, women should be screened for high blood pressure.
- Physicians should consider low-dose aspirin or calcium supplement therapy for women who have a history of high blood pressure before pregnancy to lower pre-eclampsia risk.
- Pre-eclampsia during pregnancy should be regarded as a lifetime stroke risk factor. Women who have had pre-eclampsia have up to a two-fold greater risk of stroke.
- Physicians should consider blood pressure medication for pregnant women with moderately high blood pressure (150-159mmHg/100-109mmHg). Women with blood pressure above that (160/110mmHg) should be treated.
- All women should stop smoking, but smoking particularly raises the risk of stroke in women who have migraines with aura.
- Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke, so women over age 75 should be screened for it.
If you are concerned about your risk for stroke, your physician can help.
To find a doctor, call Riverside Community Hospital at (951) 788-3463.