Why are strokes more common in women than men?

We all know or have heard of someone who has suffered from the devastating effects of a stroke, whether directly or through a loved one. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States and the primary cause of disability.

Each year, 780,000 new and recurrent strokes occur in the United States, affecting 55,000 more women than men. The increased rate of stroke among women is partly due to women's longer life expectancy. But researchers also suspect that women, particularly those under the age of 55, are more vulnerable because they are not familiar with the risk factors associated with stroke. Because of this, women need to familiarize themselves with both the risk factors and warning signs of stroke. A lack of awareness regarding stroke symptoms can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Stroke is not an equal-opportunity health crisis. About 425,000 of the 795,000 people who have strokes each year in the United States are women, and more women die of strokes than men do. Moreover, research shows a worrisome gender difference even in midlife. Women ages 45 to 54 are more than twice as likely as men the same age to suffer a stroke.

Women are thought to have a higher rate of strokes because of two gender-specific factors that are associated with stroke—hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause, and the use of birth control pills. Women also have a higher rate of migraine headaches, which triples the risk of stroke, and, later in life, they tend to have higher blood pressure than men do.

Although the survival rate from stroke is increasing, female stroke survivors are likely to be more disabled and more likely to enter a nursing home than males are. For that reason, stroke prevention is especially important for women. Many of the factors that put you at risk for heart disease also increase the risk of stroke; however, they are weighted somewhat differently.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.