Your health questions answered: A woman’s risk for stroke and “normal” periods

You ask. OHSU health experts answer. This month, our stroke and pediatric specialists are on the hot seat.

Q. Is a woman’s risk of stroke higher than a man’s?

A. Yes. Of the 6.8 million stroke survivors in America, 3 million are men, while 3.8 million are women. The American Heart and American Stroke Associations recently released stroke guidelines that suggest how woman can lower stroke risk. Women who’ve had pre-eclampsia during pregnancy should talk to their doctors about blood pressure since it can mean a higher lifetime risk of high blood pressure or stroke.

To avoid stroke, women on the pill should be screened for high blood pressure; women who get migraine headaches with aura should quit smoking; and women older than 75 should be screened for an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation). Existing recommendations to reduce stroke risk for women and men still apply; manage blood pressure, control cholesterol, exercise moderately, eat healthily and quit smoking.

Q. My 12-year-old daughter is worried her period is too heavy. What’s normal?

A. If your period lasts longer than seven days, requires changing a pad or tampon more often than every hour, or occurs more frequently than every 21-45 days, that may be cause for concern. While heavy periods can be common for the first few years of menstruation, if your period causes you to miss out on daily activities or you have the above symptoms, talk to your primary care provider. Bleeding disorders are a common cause of heavy periods, but they are often easily treated with medications such as birth control pills that regulate menstrual cycles and reduce blood loss. If you have heavy periods, please speak up: Untreated bleeding disorders may lead to related problems such anemia (low iron) which can decrease concentration and increase fatigue.


Dr. Helmi Lutsep, M.D., is Vice Chair of Neurology and sees patients at the OHSU Stroke Center, which was recently recognized by the American Heart and Stroke Association for achieving the highest level of performance in stroke care.



Dr. Kristina Haley, D.O., of OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and our Center for Women’s Health, specializes in caring for children and young women with bleeding and clotting disorders and cancer. U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Doernbecher one of the nation’s best in 10 out of 10 pediatric specialties.