STROKE KILLS TWICE as many women each year as breast cancer, yet about 90 percent of women are unaware stroke is such a significant problem. Most are also unaware of many women-specific risk factors for stroke.
“Oral contraceptive use, migraine headaches, and smoking are some of the biggest risk factors for younger women,” says Jeannie Pittenger, SCRN, MSN, Stroke Program Facilitator at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital. “If you combine those, your risk of having a stroke is 34 times greater than a man’s.”
Other risk factors include:
• Preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy)
• Hormone replacement therapy
• Atrial fibrillation
• Clotting disorders
• History of miscarriage Fortunately, simple lifestyle changes can reduce stroke risk significantly.
TIME FOR CHANGE “Migraine headaches increase a woman’s stroke risk by two and a half times,” Pittenger says. “Controlling migraines is a great way to reduce that risk, although solutions vary by individual.”
To keep stroke risk as low as possible, women can also:
• Quit smoking • Keep blood pressure under control
• Maintain a healthy weight
• Exercise regularly
“You can do everything right and still end up having a stroke,” Pittenger says. “However, 80 percent of strokes are preventable. By doing everything you can to reduce stroke risk, you can put yourself in that reduced-risk group.”