For the first time in history, special guidelines for stroke prevention target the risks faced by specially by women. Science have shown that there are many differences between men and women when it comes to diseases and their symptoms, but now the American Heart Association have just released a new set of guidelines that focus on preventing stroke in women.
A group of experts led by Cheryl Bushnell, associate professor of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., developed the guidelines, which were published in the journal Stroke. They include unique risks of developing a stroke for women, which are influenced by hormones, reproductive health, pregnancy, childbirth and other factors. The new guidelines, issued by the American Heart Association, also warn that women of all ages face higher risk of stroke than men, an idea that had never been officially agreed on. First, the risk of stroke rises with age and women live longer than men. On the other hand, certain risks are more common in women – obesity, migraine with aura, an irregular heartbeat (called atrial fibrillation) and metabolic syndrome (a combination of high levels of cholesterol and blood sugar and high blood pressure).
Currently, the general recommendations for preventing stroke include controlling blood pressure and diabetes, quitting smoking, and incorporating more exercise and healthy diet into one’s life. But more gender-related factors are coming into focus with the increasing numbers of stroke in women in recent years. That’s why the new recommendations are aimed at a broader range of women, especially at younger women. Here are some of the highlights:
Birth control pills – Women should be checked for high blood pressure before taking oral contraceptives, because this combination increases the stroke risk.
High blood pressure before pregnancy – Women with high blood pressure should take low doses of aspirin and calcium supplements to lower the risks of problems during pregnancy.
Pregnancy – The risk of stroke is higher during the last three months of the pregnancy and soon after delivery. Preeclampsia, a dangerous, high blood pressure pregnancy condition, doubles the stroke risk
Aspirin – Low doses of daily aspirin is recommended for people with diabetes and for anyone who has already had a stroke. It can be very useful to lower the risk in women aged 65 and older, too. However, there’s also a risk of bleeding, so doctors should carefully assess their patients’ condition.
Migraines – Migraines with aura lift the stroke risk and women are four times more likely to have migraine than men. Women who smoke face even a greater danger, so they should immediately quit.
Irregular heartbeat – It’s also called atrial fibrillation and is more common in the elderly. Women over the age of 75 should be screened for this type of arrhythmia.
Diabetes, depression, and emotional stress are additional risk factors, present more often in women than in men. The doctors also focus on the general awareness, sharing the alarming symptoms of the stroke – simply remember the F.A.S.T.:
- Face dropping
- Arm weakness
- Speech difficulty
- Time to call 911
Stroke also causes numbness in the face, arms and legs, especially on one side, difficulties in walking and balance, unexpected confusions, problems with understanding, sudden headache, and vision problems.