Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. There are many reasons that someone may suffer from a stroke. Smoking, high blood pressure, drinking too much alcohol, and not getting enough exercise are all said to be some of the most common causes.
It is known that men are more likely to have a stroke than women, however as age declines, the statistic reverses and women are at greater risk than men. Women have a susceptibility to stroke for a few reasons. One of the more known high risk factors for stroke include using high doses of birth control, however most women today who use that form of contraception have been prescribed a lower estrogen form of the drug.
One of lesser known, yet concerning causes of stroke in women is menopause. During menopause, the body dramatically lowers in estrogen which restricts blood flow to the CA3 region of the brain which is located in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is normally resilient with a healthy flow of estrogen, yet during menopause, the area becomes hyper-sensitive leading to more brain damage when a stroke occurs.
Menopause may often last anywhere from two to four years. Perimenopause (the time leading up to menopause) can last for some women anywhere between 10 and 15 years. That being said, women can start to notice changes in their body as early as in their mid-30’s.
In a study conducted at The University of Texas Health Sciences Center and The Research Center for Molecular Biology and the Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics in China, researchers found that estrogen replacement therapy protected the brain from stroke if taken before menopause starts or right at the beginning. According to this study, the brain becomes hyper sensitive without estrogen there to protect the hippocampus.
It is important to note that according to Dr. Brann, who led the study, updated his findings in the Journal of Neuro Science. His research concludes that estrogen only aids younger females during the early stages of menopause. In older women who are past their menopausal symptoms, hormone replacement therapy may actually increase the risk for stroke. The reason being that older women have less of the neuroprotectant IGF-1 that seems to decline as women age. This occurs in women aged 85 and older.
Other medications that do help with symptoms are antidepressants, vaginal estrogen (which can help with vaginal dryness), and Gabapentin (Neurontin) which is a medication prescribed for seizures, but it has been known to aid in lessening hot flashes. There are also a number of alternative therapies that have been known to provide relief such as Bio identical hormones.
In a study published by Doctor Cheryl Bushnell and Lynda Lisabeth, PhD, in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, they state that the most effective therapy for menopausal symptoms is still hormone therapy, but they have not yet figured out what the perfect timing may be for when doctors should prescribe the medication to diminish the occurrence of stroke.
By Katie Sevigny