Stroke Prevention Should Start Early in Life for Women

Stroke risk factors begin in young adulthood for women

(RxWiki News) Stroke usually affects people later in life. However, new research suggests that it's not just older adults who should be careful.

Recent guidelines released by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association say that stroke risk in women begins in young adulthood, therefore younger women should start maintaining a healthy lifestyle to help prevent stroke later in life.

The Heart and Stroke Associations concluded that several risk factors of stroke are more common in women than men, and they recommend that doctors evaluate women’s health histories starting in young adulthood for sex-specific events that may increase the risk of stroke later in life, such as taking birth control or a diagnosis of preeclampsia (high blood pressure and excess proteins in urine during pregnancy).

"Discuss stroke prevention with your doctor."

The authors of these guidelines were Cheryl Bushnell, MD, MHS, from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Louise McCullough, MD, PhD, from the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, Connecticut and The Stroke Center at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut.

Approximately 3.8 million women and 3 million men in the United States are expected to have a stroke each year.

The guidelines explained that women are typically older, more likely to be living alone and have poorer health prior to having a stroke than men.

Women are more likely than men to suffer a stroke because of a combination of sex-specific risk factors and other various risk factors of stroke that are more common among women than men, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Migraine headache with aura (migraines accompanied by sensory symptoms, such as flashes of light or tingling)
  • Oral birth control
  • Menopause and hormone replacement
  • Depression and psychosocial stress
  • Preeclampsia
  • High blood pressure during pregnancy

The American Heart Association and the Stroke Association suggested that women could help prevent stroke by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Factors like maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, not smoking cigarettes, regular physical activity, only drinking moderate amounts of alcohol and achieving and maintaining a healthy blood pressure as well as healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels are achievable goals that can be easily managed, and can significantly help lower a woman’s risk of stroke.

The authors also recommended that preeclampsia be considered and documented as a risk factor of stroke because previous studies have found that women with a history of preeclampsia are twice as likely to have a stroke than women with no history of preeclampsia.

The guidelines concluded that a more accurate risk evaluation for stroke is possible if doctors document risk factors that occur in young adulthood, as well as sex-specific factors.

These guidelines were published on June 16 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The Hazel K. Goddess Fund for Stroke Research in Women, the World Federation of Neurology and the National Institutes of Health provided funding.

Dr. McCullough disclosed that she received personal fees from Genentech outside of the submitted work.

Review Date: 
June 16, 2014