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Feb 14, 2014

New Guidelines for Stroke Prevention in Women

Management and prevention of high blood pressure—one of the greatest risk factors for stroke—features prominently in new guidelines.

Women have many unique characteristics that put them at increased risk for stroke, a leading cause of death in the United States. That’s why new guidelines were recently released to increase awareness and help prevent stroke in women.

Released by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, these guidelines are the first of their kind to outline stroke prevention in women. They summarized key information about stroke risk and most importantly, highlighted differences in stroke risk between men and women. By providing the latest research and recommendations on stroke risk, experts hope that these guidelines will help women take important steps to reduce risk and prevent stroke. And here are the key points every woman should know about the new recommendations:

  • High blood pressure is one of the greatest risk factors for stroke, especially among young women. High blood pressure typically has no symptoms, so it’s important that women have their numbers checked regularly and take steps to reduce their blood pressure, when necessary.

  • Women should be screened for high blood pressure before taking birth control pills. Stroke is a known risk of taking birth control pills, and having high blood pressure further increases risk for stroke.

  • Some women develop high blood pressure during pregnancy, called preeclampsia. Women who develop this condition are at increased risk for stroke, even years after pregnancy. As a result, women with preeclampsia should work closely with their doctors to minimize their risk for stroke in both the short and long-term. Also, young women with high blood pressure should take extra care to achieve normal blood pressure levels, especially before pregnancy. Women with elevated blood pressure before pregnancy are at greater risk for preeclampsia, and may be able to reduce stroke risk by preventing this condition.

  • Having a migraine with aura (severe headache accompanied by symptoms like flashes of light, blind spots or tingling in the hands) is a unique risk factor for stroke in women, especially among those taking birth control. For women experiencing this type of migraine, quitting smoking is an important way to reduce stroke risk.

  • The most common type of abnormal heart beat, called atrial fibrillation, greatly increases risk for stroke. Atrial fibrillation is especially common among older women, so experts recommend that women older than 75 be screened for AFib. By increasing diagnosis of AFib, women are better able to take steps to reduce their risk for stroke.

  • Diabetes, depression and stress are all risk factors that increase risk for stroke and are more common among women than men. Taking steps to address these risk factors is important for stroke prevention in women.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is stroke?

  • Stroke occurs when there is an interruption of the blood supply to the brain. The two types of stroke include ischemic stroke, where the blood supply to the brain is blocked by a blood clot, and hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when blood vessels rupture and leak blood into the brain. Symptoms of both types of stroke include sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, trouble with vision, loss of balance or coordination, and severe headache with no known cause. It is crucial that you call 911 immediately upon experiencing any of these symptoms.
  • How can I help prevent stroke?

  • There are many things adults can do to help prevent a stroke. First, maintain a health blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, visit your physician to properly treat this condition. Maintaining a healthy diet, weight, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol intake, and quitting smoking (if you are a smoker) can also help significantly lower risk for stroke.

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Featured Video

Hypertension is another way to say "high blood pressure." A patient has hypertension if their readings are above 140 over 90. With medication, the right diet, and a few lifestyle changes, however, hypertension can be managed.