Men, Women Differ When It Comes To Stroke Risk

By: Bel Marra Health | Blood Pressure | Saturday, February 22, 2014 - 08:00 AM

stroke risk in men and womenIf your doctor asked you if you could identify the risks for stroke, would you know the answer – or nod politely and say, well, why don’t you tell me!

But the truth is, you should become familiar with the risk factors, especially if you’re female.

Over 400,000 American women suffer from stroke every year. Some people may be surprised to hear that this number is about 55,000 more than men. Recent surveys suggest that a significant number of women don’t know the primary symptoms of stroke or the fact that prevention of stroke is not “one-size-fits-all.”

Medical advances over the last several decades have decreased the cases of stroke; however, it’s still the fourth-leading cause of death for Americans and 60 percent of strokes occur in women.

For the first time, specific stroke-prevention guidelines for women have been established, thanks to the American Heart Association, the American Stroke Association, with the help of an expert from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Men and women are different physiologically, so prevention tips need to be designed with women in mind, beginning in the child-bearing years.

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Common Risk Factors For Stroke

The common risk factors that we hear about when it comes to stroke are the same for both men and women, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Family history of stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight

So how do men and women really differ in stroke risk? Scientists say pregnancy, childbirth and hormones all play a major role. Problems from stroke are rare during pregnancy, but experts say this is when the first signs of vascular disease can appear. Studies show that women who have eclampsia and preeclampsia – conditions marked by high blood pressure – during pregnancy are twice as likely to have a stroke later in life.

Other concerns unique to women and risk of stroke include:

  • Taking birth control pills
  • Having a thick waste and high triglyceride
  • Experiencing migraine headaches
  • Using Hormone Replacement Therapy

How Does Stroke Occur?

When a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or it bursts, oxygen can’t reach the brain, causing a stroke. The end result is that brain cells die. Those who survive can be left with a long list of debilitating after-effects.

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Women, too, have a longer lifespan than men, so their lifetime risk is higher. Later in life, the risk increases because of additional risk factors at work, such as obesity and high blood pressure. Because of age, women, more than men, often have more challenging recovery from stroke, their quality of life decreases and they end up in long-term care residences.

Based on scientific investigation, including study of all risk factors, the Guidelines for Prevention of Stroke in Women in distribution throughout the medical community, suggests the following:

  • Women be screened for high blood pressure before being prescribed birth control pills since it can raise blood pressure.
  • Pre-ecalampsia be recognized as a risk factor well after pregnancy
  • Women with pre-pregnancy high blood pressure should be considered for low-dose aspirin and/or calcium supplements to lower pre-eclampsia risk
  • Women with moderately high blood pressure be considered for blood pressure medication
  • Expectant mothers with very high blood pressure be treated with medication
  • Women who suffer from migraines with aura should quit smoking
  • Women over 75 should be screened for atrial fibrillation risks.

With emphasis on early prevention, women can build on the strategies to prevent stroke and live healthy and strong in their golden years!


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