Written by Dr. Larry Goldstein, co-director of the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute.
It’s commonly thought of as a problem primarily affecting older men, but stroke is a woman’s disease.
About 60 percent of deaths related to stroke in the United States occur in women, and the lifetime risk of stroke is higher in women (about one in five) compared to men (about one in six) for those aged 55 to 75 years.
The good news is that stroke can often be prevented.
Risk factors unique to women
Although men and women have several stroke risk factors in common, such as high blood pressure (normal is less than 120/80 mmHg), diabetes, cigarette smoking, obesity, atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat also know as Afib), excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet or lack of regular exercise, several risk factors are unique to women.
Stroke risk can be increased during pregnancy, which explains why women of childbearing age have a higher stroke risk compared to men of the same age.
Migraine with aura (for example, seeing sparkling or zigzag lights) is also associated with a higher stroke risk, particularly among women who smoke or use oral contraceptives.
Women who have had eclampsia or pre-eclampsia associated with pregnancy (high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and in the case of eclampsia, seizures) are at increased risk of stroke up to 30 years later.
What can women do to reduce their stroke risk?
- Adopt a healthy diet such as the DASH or Mediterranean diet.
- Try to get regular exercise for 20-30 minutes most days of the week.
- Limit yourself to no more than one alcoholic drink per day (and of course, no alcohol during pregnancy).
- Quit smoking and avoid exposure to tobacco smoke
- Have your blood pressure checked regularly.
Talk to your healthcare provider about reducing your stroke risk if you:
- Have migraines, particularly migraines with aura.
- Have ever had eclampsia or pre-eclampsia.
Memorize some common stroke symptoms using the BE-FAST* acronym:
Balance – Does the person have trouble walking or standing?
Eyes – Are there any changes to eyesight, such as blurry vision?
Face – Do the eyes or mouth appear to be drooping?
Arms – Does the person complain of arm weakness?
Speech – Does the person slur their speech or mix up words?
Time – If any of those signs are present, it’s time to call 911.
If you or someone you are with show any of the above symptoms, call 911. It’s better to have a false alarm than to delay any treatment.
*BE-FAST was developed by Intermountain Healthcare, as an adaptation of the FAST model implemented by the American Stroke Association. Reproduced with permission from Intermountain Healthcare. Copyright 2011, Intermountain Healthcare.
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