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Stroke: Why are some women at higher risk?

 Understanding your personal risk means you can do something about it

There’s power in knowing the facts about women and stroke — even if they seem daunting at first. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Heart Association (AHA):

  • Women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke than men.
  • Each year, more women than men have strokes — and die from them.
  • For women, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death.

But perhaps the most important fact for women to remember is this: Understanding your personal risk of stroke may help give you the power to lower it.

What raises the risk for women?

Women and men share some of the same major risk factors for stroke, including:

  • High blood pressure.
  • Diabetes.
  • Heart disease.
  • Smoking.
  • Age. Risk rises as we grow older.
  • A family or personal history of stroke.
  • Race and ethnicity. Strokes occur more frequently in African American, Alaska Native and American Indian adults than in other groups.

Other risks are unique to women — or affect them more often, according to the AHA. Here’s a look at some factors linked to an increased risk:

  • Birth control pills, especially when combined with high blood pressure or smoking
  • Migraines with aura — visual disturbances such as flashing dots or blind spots
  • A history of preeclampsia — a blood pressure disorder during pregnancy
  • Pregnancy — including the first six weeks after delivery
  • Menopause
  • Hormone replacement therapy after menopause
  • Atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat

3 steps to lower your risk

By working together with your doctor, you can make a plan to lower your stroke risk.

Step 1: 

Make an appointment with your doctor to talk about your specific risks for stroke.

Step 2: 

Take control of your blood pressure. If your numbers are OK, keep an eye on them by having regular checkups.

If your numbers aren’t in a healthy zone, talk with your doctor about what changes you can make — such as eating healthy foods, cutting down on sodium and getting more exercise.*

Step 3: 

Manage other factors that may raise your risk. Beyond what’s mentioned above, other factorsOpens a new window may also play a role, including excess weight, unhealthy cholesterol levels and depression.

If you’re pregnant, be sure to get regular prenatal care so that your blood pressure can be watched closely. 

What to do next

Know the signs of a stroke. This vital information could help you get help F.A.S.T. for yourself or someone you love.

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*Talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level. 

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