Stroke risks in women are often poorly understood. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in women, but the fifth leading cause of death in men. It is recognized that lifestyle choices such as obesity, diabetes and cigarette smoking are serious stroke risk factors, but there are other conditions unique to women that increase the odds.
Stroke risks for women are highly influenced by reproductive factors. These factors put certain women at risk for stroke during their reproductive years and later in life.
Because women generally outlive men, their lives will be severely impacted by stroke, especially if they are living alone and do not receive timely assistance after a stroke. The need for long-term care after such an event may be imperative, with diminished quality of life.
Preclampsia is developed in pregnancy. It is characterized by high blood pressure, fluid retention and protein in the urine. Women who were preclampsic during a pregnancy have twice the risk of stroke and four times the risk of high blood pressure in later years. Previous history of preclampsia, coupled with obesity and high cholesterol should be monitored and treated aggressively.
Moderately high blood pressure during a pregnancy is also a risk factor for stroke, and these women should be carefully screened before receiving birth control pills, because the combination of medication and high pressure can lead to stroke.
Most people who suffer migraines are female. Migraine headaches, coupled with an aura, are known to increase a woman’s stroke risks to two and one-half times that of those who do not suffer migraines.
African-American women have almost twice the risk of stroke as their Caucasian counterparts, and are more likely to experience death at an earlier age. High blood pressure is more severe in Black women, and develops earlier in life. Researchers have found that African-Americans have a genetic component that makes them more sensitive to the effects of salt. Higher rates of diabetes and obesity from early years raises risks significantly.
Stroke risk rises dramatically by 3.5 times the normal for young women who are obese and suffer metabolic disorders. Even ten pounds of extra weight adds to risk. Thirty-eight percent of women are overweight, compared to 34 percent of men in the United States. Obesity puts young women at serious concern for developing high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, which are major stroke factors.
Women metabolize alcohol differently than men do, and therefore become addicted to alcohol more frequently. One daily drink only is recommended for women.
Women are drinking more, especially white, employed women. Along with increased alcohol consumption comes the possibility of stroke. Drinking too much alcohol raises blood pressure and contributes to the development of diabetes, particularly in overweight or obese women.
A diagnosis of depression doubles the risk of stroke for women. When controlled for risk factors like obesity and diabetes, depressed women still stroked at 1.9 times more than women who were not depressed.
Women who have had more than one miscarriage are at higher risk for blood clots, which increases stroke risks.
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