American Stroke Month

American Stroke Awareness Month

Women and Stroke: Protect Your Health

Stroke is a silent health threat that requires utmost vigilance of U.S. women of all ages. The lifetime risk of stroke for U.S. women between 55 to 75 years is 1 in 5, or 20% of women within this age bracket. Stroke kills two-times as many women as breast cancer each year, making stroke the third leading cause of death for U.S. women. Stroke also kills more women than men annually.

What’s more, strokes occurring in young women are alarmingly on the rise worldwide. The World Stroke Organization reports 8% of all strokes and 4% of all stroke-related deaths occur in people under 44 years old. Studies indicate women who are obese or have gained 44-plus pounds since age 18 are 2.5 times more likely to suffer stroke than women at a healthy weight. Additionally, pregnancy and childbirth can increase stroke susceptibility. Stroke is associated with specific pregnancy complications, including infections and preeclampsia. Plus, blood clotting activity heightens during pregnancy; if clots form in the blood vessels of a woman’s veins, stroke can occur.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death among African American women, and they are more likely to die from a stroke than non-Hispanic white women or Hispanics in the U.S. African Americans have the highest rate of death due to stroke, with almost 50% having a stroke risk factor.

Other significant stroke risk factors increasingly common in women today include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, which is the number-one killer of U.S. women.

Yet even with these alarming health facts regarding women and stroke, it’s important to note 4 out of 5 strokes are preventable, making it especially important to know personal stroke risk and be proactive to reduce your chance of suffering stroke.

May is American Stroke Month. Your Capital Women’s Care team of healthcare professionals shares vital information about stroke risks and what you can do to minimize your personal risk, how to recognize and understand stroke risks and symptoms and stroke prevention strategies you can incorporate within your personal health plan to give you best opportunity for good health and a long quality life.

What Is Stroke?

A stroke occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain becomes blocked or when a blood vessel within the brain bursts. Blood carries oxygen to cells throughout the body. When brain cells don’t have access to blood and required oxygen for proper function, the affected brain cells die off.

There are 3 types of strokes:

  • Ischemic stroke occurs when blood flow through the artery supplying blood to the brain becomes blocked. This is the most common form of stroke, occurring in 87% of all stroke occurrences.

  • Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when the artery in the brain either leaks blood or ruptures.

  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA) occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked for no more than 5 minutes. This is also known as a “warning mini stroke” because they warn future stroke will occur. More than 33% of those experiencing TIA without getting any treatment will have a major stroke within 1 year. Roughly 10 to 15% of those who have a TIA will suffer a major stroke within 3 months of the TIA’s occurrence.

Stroke is a medical emergency no matter what its type. It’s important to get treatment immediately. Some treatments for stroke work only if given within the first 3 hours after symptoms begin. Delayed treatment increases risk of permanent brain damage or even death.

Stroke Symptoms

It’s important to respond immediately. It’s easy to remember to act F.A.S.T. if you or a person you’re with is displaying any symptom indicative of stroke, including:

  • Face drooping. Look in the mirror or ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

  • Arm weakness. Try to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

  • Speech difficulty. Talk or ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are words slurred?

  • Time to call 9-1-1. If you or the person exhibits any of the above symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately to achieve best outcome. Waiting to get professional help can incur more damage from lasting effects or even death.

Stroke Risks of Women

There are several stroke risk factors affecting women:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) is a main risk factor for stroke. More than 2 in 5 women have blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/80 mmHg or are taking medicine to control blood pressure. Only about 1 in 4 of those women have their blood pressure controlled to below 130/80 mmHg.

  • Stroke risk increases with age. Life expectancy for women is longer than that of men. As a woman ages, her risk of stroke goes up each year by 10%, and menopause increases women’s stroke risk. Elevated stroke risk in correlation with menopause may be due to loss of the production of estrogen, which helps keep arteries and veins flexible and less susceptible to plaque buildup.

  • The use of certain types of birth control medicines (particularly oral contraceptives), especially if women also smoke. About 1 in 8 women smoke.

  • Women having higher rates of depression than men.

  • Obesity, diabetes and smoking increase stroke risk.

  • Sickle cell disease, a common genetic disorder in African Americans, can lead to a stroke. About 1 in 365 African American babies are born with sickle cell disease.

  • History of preeclampsia, gestational high blood pressure or gestational diabetes during pregnancy can increase stroke risk later in life.

  • Having a migraine with aura (seeing bright flashing lights or spots) raises your risk of stroke, especially if you’re younger than 55 years of age or if you smoke.

Preventing Stroke

Fortunately, there are things within your control to minimize personal stroke risk:

  • Have your blood pressure monitored regularly to help your Capital Women’s Care health team diagnose any health problems early.

  • Keep medical conditions under control. Manage your health by following your practitioners’ treatments and follow through with regular checkups for all diagnosed health conditions.

  • Make healthy lifestyle changes. Maintain a healthy weight; eat a varied nutritional diet low in fats, sodium, sugar and processed foods; get daily exercise; and eliminate and/or avoid smoking.

Knowing the ABCS of Heart and Brain Health can also reduce stroke risk:

  • Aspirin may help reduce your risk for stroke, but you should talk with your doctor before taking aspirin about whether it’s appropriate for you.

  • Blood pressure. Control blood pressure with healthy lifestyle changes. You should always take your blood pressure medicines as directed.

  • Cholesterol. Manage cholesterol levels by instituting healthy lifestyle changes and taking medications as directed by your practitioner.

  • Smoking. Avoid smoke and quit smoking altogether. If you do smoke, learn how to quit.

Reduce Your Stroke Risk

You can take the following steps to reduce your personal stroke risk:

  • Maintain a healthy diet. Choose nutritious foods that minimize sodium, a leading contributor to high blood pressure. Enjoy plenty of whole, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins like chicken and fish and fiber-rich whole grains to achieve and maintain healthy cholesterol levels. You can obtain tips and ideas for healthy eating and make a personalized meal plan at MyPlate from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA.)

  • Keep moving with exercise. Keep your heart and blood vessels healthy through regular physical activity: bike, jog, play a favorite sport or take a cardio class at your local gym to reduce your stroke risk.

  • Limit alcohol consumption. When drinking, no more than two drinks/day for men, and 1/day for women.

  • Stress less. Stress can spike blood pressure. To keep blood pressure low and minimize negative effects of stress, incorporate habits, like stretching, meditation, talking with trusted friends or an activity that helps you manage stress effectively.

  • Talk with your doctor. Schedule an appointment with your practitioner to discuss your personal and family health histories and your age to determine your stroke risk and implement preventative health strategies in your personal health plan, including monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight management.

  • Stay on top of diagnosed health conditions. Have diagnosed health conditions checked regularly, especially diabetes, high blood pressure and/or cholesterol, heart disease and atrial fibrillation (AFib), all of which are contributing factors that elevate stroke risk if they aren’t properly controlled.

Treatments for Stroke

Stroke treatment depends upon whether a narrowed or blocked brain artery results, with clot-busting medications prescribed. If there is a ruptured brain artery, surgery must take place.

The “FASTer” you get to the emergency room if you or a person you’re with experiences symptoms, the greater chance of survival with less damaging, lasting effects on quality of life.

Your local Capital Women’s Care team of health professionals is here to address your concerns or answer questions pertaining to stroke, your personal stroke risk factors or any women’s health issue. Our knowledgeable professionals prioritize comprehensive quality care and treatment to optimize your overall health so you enjoy a long, quality life.


Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


Go to top