On Thursday, The American Heart Association (AHA) released a new set of guidelines for preventing strokes in women. While men are also at risk of having a stroke, there is a specific set of issues specific to women that need to be addressed. The organization focused the guidelines on birth control, pregnancy complications, depression and other issues that increase risk factors in women.
A stroke is when oxygen to the brain is cut off when the blood is restricted by a clot or burst. Being aware of the symptoms and acting quickly are key to survival. The first signs of a stroke are difficulty talking, a numb or weak arm and dropping of the face on one side. The result can include impaired language skills, memory loss, vision impairment and temporary or permanent paralysis.
Strokes affect nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. each year. It is the third leading cause of death in women. However, 80 percent of strokes are preventable by managing risk factors, according to The Stroke Association. They list hypertension, which is high blood pressure, as the top manageable factor.
Knowing the risk factors, prevention methods and symptoms to watch for can be life-saving. Assistant professor of neurology and stroke chief at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Cheryl Bushnell, led the research on strokes in women to provide awareness, which was published in the journal Stroke. The researchers placed emphasis on issues specific to women, including pregnancy complications.
Stroke risks increase in women who experience migraines with an aura, are obese or have irregular heartbeats. Metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar, is also a risk factor. Particular attention is needed for pregnant women and those taking birth control, however. More than 10 million women use birth control, but the combination of birth control pills and high blood pressure raises the risk of stroke. Prevention is as easy as getting a screening for high blood pressure before taking them and getting regular checkups to monitor blood pressure with continued use.
Pregnancy is a risky time because women can develop preeclampsia, which is extremely high blood pressure, along with the presence of high protein in the urine. Formerly known as toxemia, this condition is usually detected by swelling of the feet, rapid weight gain and vomiting. Women in the last trimester are at the most likely to get this condition, but it can also happen soon after the delivery. Although the immediate symptoms can be relieved, the effects double the risk of stroke later in life. While women often assume that delivering the baby is the cure for preeclampsia, the risk of stroke remains elevated.
Preventing strokes starts with controlling blood pressure. In addition to pregnancy complications, women who face depression, diabetes and high stress levels are also at an increased risk of having a stroke. Those at high risk require blood pressure monitoring and are also advised to stop smoking, exercise regularly and follow a heart-healthy diet. A low-dose aspirin can help prevent and lower high blood pressure, as well.
By Tracy Rose