Men and women share some similar risk factors for stroke—high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol—but new guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association reveal a whole new set of risk factors tailored specifically to women. With roughly 55,000 more women than men suffering from stroke each year, the guidelines come at a good time.
“This is the first time that we have seen a list of risk factors that apply only to women,” says Andrea Becker, MD, cardiologist at Lankenau Medical Center. “This is a significant step in helping women understand that stroke is not the same across the board and that their risk factors are not the same as their male counterparts.”
In addition to traditional stroke risk factors, the AHA and ASA guidelines caution women about the dangers of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia during childbearing years:
- Women should be screened for high blood pressure before taking birth control pills, as the combination can raise stroke risk.
- Pregnant women with moderately high blood pressure may want to consider for high blood pressure medication.
- Women with a history of high blood pressure before pregnancy should be considered for a low-dose aspirin or calcium supplement to lower pre-eclampsia risk.
- Women who have pre-eclampsia have twice the risk of stroke and four times the risk of high blood pressure later in life. Doctors and patients should recognize pre-eclampsia as a stroke risk, even after pregnancy.
Migraine sufferers, too, should pay attention to stroke risk. The guidelines suggest that women who regularly suffer from migraines with blinking lights or moving dots are at a higher risk for stroke. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing migraines. Although migraines can be a risk factor for men, they tend to be more common in women.
When it comes to managing your stroke risk, prevention is the same across the board. Men and women should follow a healthy lifestyle with regular activity, moderate alcohol consumption, abstaining from tobacco products, and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains and low in saturated fat.
“The time to worry about your stroke risk is not after you or someone you love has a stroke. Hopefully, women will look to this as a resource and see the opportunity to take control of their stroke risk at an earlier age,” says Dr. Becker.
Stroke risk isn’t the only thing that differs for men and women. Learn more about women’s unique stroke symptoms.
If you’re concerned about high blood pressure, talk to your primary care doctor or cardiologist. To find a physician in your area, visit our website.