One in five women in the United States will have a stroke in her lifetime. Nearly 60% of stroke deaths are in women, and stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer. Surprised? You’re not alone. Stroke is the third leading cause of death for women, yet most women do not know their risk of having a stroke.
These facts are alarming, but there is some good news: Up to 80% of strokes can be prevented. This means it is important to know your risk of having a stroke and to take action to reduce that risk.
What Is a Stroke?
A stroke, sometimes called a brain attack, occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. When brain cells are starved of oxygen, they die. Stroke is a medical emergency. It’s important to get treatment as soon as possible. A delay in treatment increases the risk of permanent brain damage or death.
What Puts Women at Risk of Stroke?
• High blood pressure is a main risk factor for stroke, yet nearly one in three women with high blood pressure does not know she has it.
• Stroke risk increases with age, and women live longer than men. This is why 6 in 10 people who die from stroke are women. Also, the percentage of strokes in women aged 45 or younger is increasing. Younger women may have different symptoms of stroke, such as dizziness or headache, than women age 46 and older do.
• Women have some unique risk factors for stroke. Having high blood pressure during pregnancy raises a woman’s risk for stroke.
• Certain types of birth control medicines may raise stroke risk in women with high blood pressure, especially if they smoke.
• Women are twice as likely as men to experience depression and anxiety, and women often report higher stress levels than men do. These mental health issues all raise a person’s risk for stroke.
Not all women are equally affected by stroke. African-American women are nearly twice as likely to have a stroke as white women, mainly because of having high blood pressure, being overweight, and having diabetes.
How Can I Prevent Stroke?
Most strokes can be prevented by keeping medical conditions under control and making lifestyle changes. A good place to start is to know your ABCS of heart health:
Aspirin: Aspirin may help reduce your risk for stroke. But you should check with your doctor before taking aspirin because it can make some types of stroke worse. Before taking aspirin, talk with your doctor about whether aspirin is right for you.
Blood Pressure: Control your blood pressure.
Cholesterol: Manage your cholesterol.
Smoking: Quit smoking or don’t start.
Make lifestyle changes:
• Eat healthy and stay active. Choose healthy foods most of the time, including foods with less salt, or sodium, to lower your blood pressure, and get regular exercise. Being overweight or obese raises your risk of stroke.
• Talk to your doctor about your chances of having a stroke, including your age and whether anyone in your family has had a stroke.
• Get other health conditions under control, such as diabetes or heart disease.