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Published on March 06, 2014

New Guidelines For Reducing Stroke Risk in Women

For years, people have been told to lower their risk for stroke by taking their health into their own hands, such as monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol levels. And for years these risk factors have applied to both men and women.

New recommendations from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, however, suggest there are additional factors that specifically increase a woman’s risk for stroke later on in life, such as use of birth control and risks associated with pregnancy.

Specifically, the guidelines recommend controlling high blood pressure from a young age, lowering the risk of developing preeclampsia (a condition characterized by high blood pressure and high levels of protein in urine) during pregnancy, monitoring blood pressure levels in women who take birth control, and quitting smoking.

While this information isn’t exactly ‘new,’ the AHA and ASA hope to raise awareness of these specific risks so women and their physicians can get more proactive in preventing stroke.

“Women who developed preeclampsia and eclampsia in pregnancy present a higher lifetime risk of stroke,” said Dr. Robert Michaelson, an OB/GYN at Abington - Jefferson Health. “This information should thus be conveyed to the patient when the event occurs, but those medical providers for women should be alert to this and question all of their patients about whether they had hypertensive disease in pregnancy.”

Although Dr. Michaelson suggests preeclampsia and eclampsia cannot necessarily be prevented, the guidelines advise women with a history of hypertension to consider taking low-dose aspirin and including more calcium in their diet to lower the risk of the conditions.

The guidelines say women who take oral contraceptives should be further monitored for high blood pressure and instructed to quit smoking. “Oral contraceptives are a risk factor for thromboembolic events [formation of a clot in a blood vessel], including stroke, so this must be considered.”

He also added that women and physicians should monitor any cardiac disorders, such as atrial fibrillation, as these can increase the risk for stroke as well.

Currently, about 795,000 people have a stroke every year in the United States. Stroke is the third leading cause of death among women and the fifth leading cause of death among men.

Since women on average live longer than men, the guidelines suggest they are more affected by the disease and therefore should know more about the specific risk factors that may affect them.

Other ways women can lower their risk for stroke include exercising, following a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, and controlling diabetes and stress.

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