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7 Stroke Risk Factors Women Should Know

Each year, 55,000 more women have a stroke than men. Learn the reasons why—and what you can do.

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Not only do women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke, but more women die from strokes each year than men. And while risk factors such as smoking, diabetes and being obese don’t discriminate against age or gender, some lesser-known risks may be more likely to affect women. Find out your stroke risk, as well as ways to prevent or reduce your chance of stroke.

Medically reviewed in June 2019.

Hypertension

2 / 8 Hypertension

Approximately 75 percent of people who have a stroke also have hypertension. More than half of adults with hypertension are women, and as women get older, their risk becomes greater than men’s. Often called the silent killer, high blood pressure has no signs or symptoms. That’s why it’s important to get it checked every year. Hypertension can be controlled—and even eliminated—by practicing heart-healthy habits such as controlling your weight, exercising, reducing stress and eating a healthy diet.

Birth Control Pills

3 / 8 Birth Control Pills

Approximately 75 percent of people who have a stroke also have hypertension. More than half of adults with hypertension are women, and as women get older, their risk becomes greater than men’s. Often called the silent killer, high blood pressure has no signs or symptoms. That’s why it’s important to get it checked every year. Hypertension can be controlled—and even eliminated—by practicing heart-healthy habits such as controlling your weight, exercising, reducing stress and eating a healthy diet.

Pregnancy and Preeclampsia

4 / 8 Pregnancy and Preeclampsia

If you’re pregnant, your chance of having a stroke while you’re expecting is pretty rare. Stroke affects only 2 out of 10,000 U.S. women per year. But preeclampsia, or high blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy, can double your risk for stroke later in life. Women with hypertension before pregnancy or who had it during a previous pregnancy should talk to an HCP about taking low-dose aspirin to lower stroke risk; it’s recommended from 12 weeks through delivery. Certain women may need to take medications to lower blood pressure, as well. And whether or not you’re expecting a baby, you should keep your blood pressure under control to help reduce your stroke risk. 

Menopausal Hormone Therapy

5 / 8 Menopausal Hormone Therapy

Using menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) may slightly raise the odds of stroke in some women, as it can boost blood clot risk. However, MHT is still the leading way to treat menopause symptoms, and its benefits may outweigh the risks for most women who haven’t yet turned 60, or who are within 10 years of menopause . Currently, most experts say it’s safe to take the lowest-effective dose for short-term therapy. Talk to your HCP to find out if MHT is safe for you. 

Soda

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It’s well known that sugary-sweet soda pop can cause weight gain, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and even heart disease. But a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition was the first to discover the link between sodas and stroke. The study, which analyzed soda consumption in men and women found that the risk of stroke was 16 percent higher in people who drank one more sugar-sweetened or diet sodas per day, compared to those who had none.

Even diet soda may be linked to increased chances of stroke. A 2019 study of almost 82,000 women in the journal Stroke found that those who drank two or more artificially sweetened beverages daily had a 23 percent higher risk than those who drank them never or rarely.

Looking for an alternate beverage? Swapping soda for decaf coffee cuts stroke risk by 10 percent.

Migraine with Aura

7 / 8 Migraine with Aura

“Women [tend to have] higher rates of migraines, which can increase stroke risk,” says Lori Noorollah, MD, of Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence, Missouri. More specifically, the risk occurs if the migraine is accompanied by an aura, which could be a visual disturbance, a pins and needles sensation and/or numbness. Migraine without aura is not associated with an increased risk of stroke. If you have a migraine with an aura, you can lower your stroke risk by keeping your weight in check, controlling your blood pressure, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking. 

Atrial Fibrillation

8 / 8 Atrial Fibrillation

About 15 percent of people with strokes have atrial fibrillation (AFib), a condition in which the top chambers of the heart beat irregularly. Women tend to develop AFib later than men and are more likely to have a stroke and die because of it.

“It’s like the edges of a stream or river where the water flow isn’t fast, you can see that it swirls around and becomes more still,” says Charles Joyner, MD, of HCA Virginia. When this happens, the blood can thicken and form a clot, which resides in the atrium, he explains, “and that clot can break free and enter other organs, such as the brain, causing a stroke.”

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