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Control the Risk of Stroke in Women

Women are more likely than men to die of stroke. While many people believe that stroke affects only the elderly, anyone at any age can be at risk for stroke. Here is what you should know about the risk factors and how to treat them.

Did you know?

  • Stroke is the third leading cause of death, and a leading cause of disability in the United States.
  • Of the 700,000 Americans who suffer strokes every year, many stroke sufferers are women under age 65.

The good news is that the most common risk factors for stroke are ones that can be treated and controlled:

Common Risk Factors for Stroke

High blood pressure/hypertension

High blood pressure is the single most important risk factor for stroke. There are usually no symptoms or early warning signs of high blood pressure. The best way to ensure that your blood pressure is normal (about 120/80 mm Hg) is to have it checked regularly.


Studies show that cigarette smoking is an important risk factor for stroke, but the consequences of smoking are the most preventable. The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke decreases the amount of oxygen in the blood.


Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or is unable to use the insulin it does make. Many diabetes patients have other health problems such as high cholesterol and blood pressure. When these health issues are combined with diabetes, the risk for stroke is increased.

Carotid artery disease

Since your carotid artery (in your neck) supplies blood directly to the brain, if this artery is damaged by atherosclerosis (fatty buildup of plaque in the artery wall), it can become blocked by a clot, which may result in a stroke.

Coronary heart disease

People with heart problems are at risk for stroke two times more than those whose hearts work normally. Rapid, uncontrolled beating in the heart’s upper chamber raises the risk for stroke. Heart attack is also a major cause of death among stroke survivors.

Special Risk Factors for Women

Although stroke is more common in men than women, more women at older ages have strokes, and at all ages women are more likely to die of stroke. For women, other risk factors can have a direct impact on stroke:

Migraine headaches

Women are more likely to experience migraine headaches than men. Women who suffer from migraines with auras (visual interruptions such as blind spots or flashing dots) can be at a much higher risk of having a stroke, according to recent research.

Birth control pills

Oral contraceptives are safe options for birth control, but the risk of stroke increases significantly for women who use these contraceptives and are smokers, as well as those are older than age 35.

Learn what factors put you at greater risk of stroke such as family history, high blood pressure, diabetes, and increasing age, and how to modify your lifestyle to lessen risks.

This article was originally published in the May 2006 issue of Smart Health – Northeast Ohio’s Health and Wellness Magazine Just For Women, and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2006.

For more information:

Go to the Stroke health topic.