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A stroke happens when blood can’t flow to the brain. A blood clot or bleeding in the brain is most often the cause. In the United States, stroke is now more common in women than men. More than half of the 795,000 strokes that occur each year happen to women. Nearly 60 percent of stroke deaths occur in women.
The American Heart Association recently updated its guidelines for preventing strokes in women. Certain factors can boost a woman's risk for stroke. While women share many of the same risk factors for stroke as men — high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes — they also have other risk factors.
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 — especially if she smokes, is older than 35 and suffers from certain types of migraines.
People with atrial fibrillation (AF) are four to five times more likely to have a stroke. AF more commonly occurs in women because AF afflicts older people and women tend to live longer than men.
During a stroke, both men and women often report the following symptoms appear suddenly:
Other symptoms may include hiccups, nausea, chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath and a racing heartbeat.
Recognizing these symptoms and getting immediate medical care when they occur can save your life. It may also lower your risk for more serious 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 after their stroke.
If you suspect you or a loved one is having a stroke, call 911 right away. Time is essential for receiving lifesaving treatment.
You can‘t change your family history, but you can change some behaviors to help reduce your risk of stroke.
Prevention, early detection and timely treatment of stroke-related risk factors are your best defense for staying healthy. Take advantage of important health screenings covered by your health plan throughout the year. This includes preventive services that may be covered at no cost to you when you use a network provider.*
Originally published 3/16/2016; Revised 2019, 2021, 2023
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, a Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association
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