The reality is harsh for women who suffer a stroke. First, stroke is the third leading cause of death for women. It is the fifth leading cause of death for men. Second, women who suffer a stroke are more likely to live alone when they have a stroke, resulting in more women living in long-term health care facilities after a stroke. The recovery is more difficult for women than men. Why does stroke hit women harder than men? Health care providers and researchers are still not sure, other than to go back to women’s life expectancy being longer in general than men. Stroke risk increases with age and recovery is more difficult as we age. Therefore, it is important for women to understand their own risk and learn what they can do to reduce that risk.
Despite growing awareness around breast cancer prevention and early detection, stroke kills more women each year than breast cancer – 100,000 women die from stroke compared to 39,000 from breast cancer. When you pose the question, “Do you know how to reduce your risk of stroke?” it may be more difficult to answer than answering that same question about breast cancer. Health care providers urge women to not only know the common risks of stroke, but their own unique risks.
Risk Factors for Stroke
Both men and women have risk factors in common – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history, being overweight, lack of physical activity, and smoking. These are risk factors we can control through lifestyle modifications and medication, when necessary. Other risk factors we cannot control are age, race and gender.
When it comes to unique risk factors for women, there are some important things to consider. Women who take birth control pills may double their risk of stroke when taking contraception is combined with other risk factors such as being over the age of 35, smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes. Pregnancy also brings a risk of stroke when changes to the body to support the pregnancy lead to increased blood pressure and added stress on the heart. Women who suffer from migraine headaches may more than double their stroke risk. Additionally, women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increase their risk of stroke. Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) quadruples women’s stroke risk, especially after the age of 75.
As a result, 55,000 more women than men have a stroke each year. Women need to talk to their health care provider about any of the risk factors listed above that apply to them and learn what steps they need to take to manage and reduce those risks.
To learn more about the award-winning Oklahoma Stroke & Neurological Institute at Hillcrest Medical Center, click here.