New stroke guidelines may help women reduce their risk

Stroke has a big impact, no matter your sex. Yet stroke affects more women than men: According to the American Heart and American Stroke Associations, of the 6.8 million stroke survivors in America, 3 million are men, and 3.8 million are women.

Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death for men—and the third-leading cause for women.

For the first time, the American Heart and American Stroke Associations have released a set of stroke guidelines that describe stroke risks specific to women and suggestions on how to address them:

  • Pregnancy’s role: If you are pregnant and have moderately or severely high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about possible medication. Those with a history of high blood pressure should be considered for low-dose aspirin and/or calcium supplements to lower preeclampsia risks. Women who’ve had preeclampsia have twice the risk of stroke and four times the risk of high blood pressure over their lifetimes.
  • Pill risk: Get screened for high blood pressure before taking birth control pills, because high blood pressure, along with the pill, may increase stroke risk.
  • Migraine hazard: Women who have migraine headaches with aura should quit smoking to avoid a higher stroke risk.
  • Don’t skip a beat: If you are older than age 75, get screened for an irregular heartbeat, as there is a link between atrial fibrillation and stroke risk.

Obesity can also increase your stroke risk because of the effects that go along with it, such as an elevated blood sugar, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, which can add up to the metabolic syndrome.

These new guidelines don’t rule out existing recommendations given to both men and women: Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as issues like heart conditions or diabetes. Lifestyle choices remain important—exercising at least 30 minutes a day, eating healthy foods, avoiding excessive alcohol and quitting smoking.

And, even if you have one or more of these newly defined risk factors in your life, it doesn’t mean agonizing. If you have any one of them, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have a stroke, but when combined with other risk factors, it’s something you should discuss with your primary care provider.

The OHSU Stroke Center provides advanced stroke prevention care as well as the highest levels of acute stroke treatment. OHSU has received certification as a Comprehensive Stroke Center, the first such center in the Pacific Northwest.

Order your FREE stroke prevention packet here.


Helmi Lutsep. M.D.
Vice Chair and Dixon Term Professor of Neurology

Dr. Lutsep completed her medical degree and neurology residency at the Mayo Clinic. She pursued fellowships in behavioral neurology at the University of California, Davis and in cerebrovascular disease at Stanford University. Her clinical area of focus is stroke prevention and acute stroke treatment.