In early February, the American Heart Association published new guidelines aimed at preventing stroke in women. Due to several factors, women are more prone to stroke and generally have more difficulty recovering from stroke than men. A stroke occurs when a blood clot forms in a vessel leading to the brain, cutting off its oxygen supply. Women suffer strokes more often than men because they tend to live longer than men, undergo reproductive hormonal changes through contraceptives and hormone replacement therapies, and face an increased risk of stroke during pregnancy.
Due to these risk factors, the American Heart Association outlines the following guidelines:
- Women with a history of high blood pressure before pregnancy may be able to take low-dose aspirin after the first trimester of pregnancy. Similarly, pregnant women with moderately high blood pressure may be able to be treated with medication.
- A history of preeclampsia, or high blood pressure during pregnancy, should be considered a risk factor for stroke, along with cholesterol, obesity and smoking.
- Women should be tested for high blood pressure prior to starting hormonal birth control, and although data is conflicting, hormone replacement therapy during menopause may increase the risk of stroke, so should not be used for stroke prevention.
- As migraines with aura (sensory warning signs, such as tingling sensations or flashing lights) have been linked to stroke, women who experience migraines with aura should quit smoking.
- Women over 75 should be tested for atrial fibrillation, another risk factor of stroke.
It is vital that stroke awareness and prevention begins at an early age and that blood pressure is monitored and treated appropriately throughout a woman’s life. It is also important to note that these are only guidelines and that cases will vary by individual, so it is important to discuss issues or concerns related to stroke with your doctor.