Stroke is the third most common cause of death in women. But even stroke survivors often experience some type of disability. A stroke can happen to a woman at almost any age – even to women in their twenties.
This year alone, more than 100,000 U.S. women under 65 will suffer some kind of stroke. Most women don’t realize that the medical regimen they receive for other conditions can heighten the risk of stroke. Many of those strokes can be avoided simply by being aware of the risks and talking with your doctor to make appropriate changes.
Know Your Risk Factors
Strokes can happen to anyone, at any age. And while most stroke risk factors are common to both women and men, there are some that are unique to women, especially young women.
Here are some of the stroke risk factors every woman should be aware of:
BIRTH CONTROL PILLS
Taking birth control pills, even a low-estrogen dose, could double the stroke risk for women compared to women who don’t take birth control pills. That risk increases even more if other risk factors are present.
HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY
Postmenopausal women who take hormone replacement therapy may be increasing their stroke risk by about a third.
HISTORY OF PREECLAMPSIA/ECLAMPSIA
If you experienced preeclampsia or eclampsia, elevated blood pressure during pregnancy, it could increase your risk of future hypertension and stroke even up to 30 years after delivery.
Women who suffer from migraines accompanied by visual disturbances such as flashing dots or blind spots (known as “aura”) can be up to 10 times more likely to suffer a stroke, depending on other risk factors.
HYPERTENSION (HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE)
Many women go through life with elevated blood pressure and feel no symptoms whatsoever, so it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly – especially during pregnancy. Hypertension is often caused by plaque building up inside blood vessels, which causes the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. If a piece of plaque breaks off and blocks blood flow to the brain, it can cause a clot-related (ischemic) stroke.
Some autoimmune diseases such as diabetes or lupus can often increase stroke risk for women.
If you’ve had more than one miscarriage, you may be at a higher risk of forming blood clots, which increases the chance of having a stroke. Other signs of a possible clotting disorder can include any previous history of clots in the legs (known as “deep vein thrombosis” or DVT) and livedo reticularis (a mottled, purplish discoloration of the skin).
These risks are very common, but don’t despair because reducing even one stroke factor can make a big difference.