By J. Douglas Overbeck, M.D.
We all know that women are very different than their male counterparts. Women have the ability to ask for directions, they tend to be more intuitive, and they are physically different than men. And now, there is another disparity to separate the genders. Their stroke risks.
The American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association recently released their findings on the individual stroke risks between genders, and for the first time, a prevention guideline geared specifically toward women. Much like the atypical symptoms and risk factors for heart disease in women, stoke also effects women differently than men.
While men and women do share common risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking, there are many risk factors, unique to women, that most aren’t aware of. The AHA and ASA guidelines stress these six gender specific risk factors: pregnancy, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, oral contraceptive use, postmenopausal hormone use and changes in hormonal status. Other stroke risk factors that are more prevalent in women than men are migraines with aura, atrial fibrillation, hypertension, depression, and psychosocial distress.
As far as prevention measures go, educating women of childbearing age is extremely important. Most of these risk factors are increased during this specific time in a woman’s life. The recommended actions women should take, as outlined by the AHA and ASA are as follows: before women start an oral contraceptive regimen, they should be tested for high blood pressure because a mix of the two increases risk.
Pregnant women who have been diagnosed with chronic hypertension or with a history of it should begin taking low dose aspirin after the 12-week gestation marker to lower risk of preeclampsia, which is a factor for increased risk of stroke later in life. The earlier it is treated, the better. Antihypertensive therapy is also recommended for pregnant women with severe hypertension, and may be considered for the treatment of moderate hypertension.
If you are suspected of having cerebral venous thrombosis, which occurs in women more than men, routine blood studies should be conducted to keep a close eye on blood count numbers and other indicators of thrombosis.
So to decrease your stroke risks, as females, you need to pay particular attention to the warning signs of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes especially in childbearing years. For more information or concerns, talk to your doctor about your risks.