The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Stroke Association (ASA) have released guidelines aimed at stroke prevention in women. The risks of suffering stroke are similar to men’s, but women have other health concerns that can increase their risk for stroke.
The set of guidelines, published Thursday and to appear in the May issue of the American Heart Association journal Stroke, is the first of its kind to focus on preventing stroke in women. The impetus behind this is the fact women live longer and therefore, suffer from strokes more than men do. Out of approximately 800,000 stroke deaths that occur each year, more than half are women. Aside from a longer life span, the woman’s reproductive years are a reason to be mindful of stroke risk.
When a woman suffers preeclampsia during pregnancy, she is at risk for stroke before and after delivering the baby. Even long after she’s given birth, the risk for stroke remains. Preeclampsia equates to high blood pressure and high level of protein in the urine. Eclampsia itself is the severe version of preeclampsia, which resolves after childbirth. Non-Hispanic black women are most at risk of stroke, according to the AHA.
Preeclampsia during pregnancy is a major sign that a woman will suffer stroke later in life. In fact, having this condition is the first sign of vascular problems. The risk is twice as high if a woman has this condition during pregnancy, and she will be four times as likely to suffer high blood pressure also. The older a woman gets, the more likely she will suffer a stroke because other health risks occur during the aging process.
Other risk factors for stroke are taking birth control pills and having a history of migraines with aura (a less frequent migraine with symptoms appearing before the actual migraine happens). Obesity, smoking and high cholesterol levels are causes for concern. The best preventative measure is to keep all of these in check, and remember all important numbers such as BMI and cholesterol and blood pressure levels. If a woman is already smoking, she is well advised to stop, because this increases stroke risk.
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel traveling to the brain bursts or becomes a clot. When this happens, the brain is deprived of oxygen and blood and thus, the brain starts dying. The aftereffects of stroke are serious, and affects memory, vision and speech, and can cause paralysis and other health problems. The effects are devastating, and can be lifelong. If a woman survives a stroke, it is more than likely she will end up in nursing care, as approximately 30 percent of women who suffer stroke will have permanent disability, such as inability to ambulate or communicate.
Here is a sample of stroke prevention guidelines from the AHA and ASA:
- To prevent possible preeclampsia during pregnancy, a woman with a history of high blood pressure should be placed on a regimen of aspirin and calcium supplements.
- If a woman is taking birth control pills, this is a risk factor for stroke so testing for high blood pressure is imperative. If she has moderate blood pressure, she can take medication during pregnancy. The medication is necessary if she has high blood pressure.
- Women over 75 years old should have regular cardiac checkups to ensure there is no irregular heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation is a risk factor for stroke.
In addition to making lifestyle changes, a woman should be familiar with her family history including any history of cardiovascular disease, heart attack or stroke. These guidelines will help women learn how to prevent stroke.
By Juana Poareo