Preventing Stroke in Women of All Ages

A stroke happens when a part of your brain can’t get the blood it needs. A blood clot or bleeding in your brain can cause this serious health event. Certain factors can boost your chances of having a stroke. High blood pressure is one factor. This condition can make it harder for your heart to pump blood throughout your body.

A stroke can strike anyone—no matter your age, ethnicity, or sex. There is no typical stroke victim. In the U.S., stroke is now more common in women than men. More than half of the 795,000 strokes that occur each year happen to women and 60 percent of stroke deaths occur in women. In fact, in 2014, the American Heart Association released new guidelines for preventing strokes in women.

Women have many of the same risk factors for stroke as men – such as high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes – but women have other risk factors to consider. For instance, hormonal changes can raise a woman’s risk for stroke. During pregnancy, some mothers-to-be may develop preeclampsia—a form of high blood pressure. Certain birth control pills can also put a woman at higher risk for stroke. This is especially true if she smokes and is older than 35. The guidelines also report a higher risk for smokers who suffer from certain types of migraines.

8 Ways to Help Women Prevent a Stroke

You can ‘t change your family history but you can change some of your behaviors to help reduce your risk of stroke.

  1. Drink—in moderation
    Limit your drinking to one serving a day: a standard-sized drink is a 5-ounce glass of wine, 12-ounce beer, or 1.5-ounce glass of hard liquor.
  2. Treat diabetes
    Having high blood sugar over time damages blood vessels, making clots more likely to form inside them. Monitor your blood sugar and keep it under control. 
  3. Quit smoking
    Smoking accelerates clot formation in a couple of different ways. It thickens your blood, and it increases the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries.
  4. Treat atrial fibrillation
    Atrial fibrillation is a form of irregular heartbeat that causes clots to form in the heart. See your doctor for the best treatment.
  5. Exercise
    Exercise at a moderate intensity at least five days a week for 30 minutes.
  6. Lower blood pressure
    Maintain a blood pressure of less than 120 (top number) over less than 80 (bottom number) by reducing the salt in your diet, avoiding high-cholesterol foods and eating a balanced diet. Take medication if it is recommended by your doctor.
  7. Lose weight
    Keep your body mass index (BMI) at 25 or less.
  8. Take a baby aspirin
    Talk to your doctor to make sure aspirin is safe and appropriate for you to take.

Source: Harvard Health, June 1, 2013

Women—more often than men—may develop health problems, like obesity and atrial fibrillation (AF) that can lead to a stroke. People with AF are 4 to 5 times more likely to have a stroke. AF commonly afflicts older people, especially women, because they often live longer than men.

Learn the common signs of stroke. During a stroke, both men and women often report that the following appear suddenly:

  • Dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
  • Numbness or weakness in the face or limb, usually on 1 side of the body
  • Confusion and trouble speaking or understanding
  • Trouble seeing
  • Severe headache with no known cause

Women may also sometimes have hiccups, nausea, chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, and a racing heartbeat.
Knowing all these symptoms can save your life. It may also lower your risk for disability. Compared with men, women have a lower quality of life after a stroke. One recent study found women were more likely to have trouble moving and doing daily activities up to a year later.

If you suspect you or a loved one is having a stroke, call 911 right away. Time is essential for receiving lifesaving treatment. Learn more about how a stroke can damage your brain.

Be safe and know the warning signs.

Some key points to keep in mind: 

  • Early detection is the best defense for staying healthy.
  • You can help keep your family and yourself healthy year round by taking advantage of important health screenings covered by your health plan.
  • This includes some preventive services that may be covered at no cost to you if you are using a network provider*

* Preventive services at no cost applies only to members enrolled in non-grandfathered health plans. You may have to pay all or part of the cost of preventive care if your health plan is grandfathered. To find out if your plan is grandfathered or non-grandfathered, call the customer service number listed on your member ID card.

Sources: American Heart Association, National Institutes of Health

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