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Stroke Prevention Guidelines for Women

Update Date: Feb 07, 2014 09:38 AM EST

Based on several studies, researchers have found many differences between men and women when it comes to certain diseases. For example, people now know that heart attack risks vary between the two sexes. More recently, experts have stressed about the differences in stroke risks as well. The American Heart Association (AHA) just issued the first ever set of guidelines catered to preventing stroke in women.

A stroke occurs when blood flow gets cut off before it can reach the brain. There are two kinds of strokes, which are ischemic stroke that is caused by a blood clot or hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain. Stroke is the third-leading cause of death for women and oftentimes, the symptoms are unrecognizable. The new guidelines were developed to better inform women of these symptoms and their risk factors.

The latest guidelines added very gender-specific risks. First, the experts stated that before women start taking oral contraceptives, they should check their blood pressure levels. Birth control pills combined with hypertension could raise one's risk of stroke. Even though this risk is small, it is relatively higher for women between the ages of 45 and 49. Second, during the last trimester of pregnancy and right after birth, risk of stroke could increase especially if the woman has preeclampsia, which is dangerously high blood pressure. Third, the guidelines reminded women that frequent migraines with aura could increase one's stroke risk.

Previous guidelines stated that common stroke risks in women are migraine with aura, obesity, atrial fibrillation, which is an irregular heartbeat condition, and metabolic syndrome, which encompasses blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. In order to prevent strokes or at least reduce one's risk, the guidelines recommend women to maintain a healthy blood pressure level, control diabetes, quit smoking, get more exercise and start to eat healthier foods.

The guidelines stressed the importance of having a good relationship with one's primary care physician. For women who have these stroke risks, discussing ways of safely reducing them with a medical professional could improve overall quality of life.

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