According to the Center for Disease Control, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in women. In the United States, one in five women between the ages of 55 and 75 will have a stroke.
Since four out of five strokes are considered preventable, it’s essential to know the signs of a stroke and the unique risk factors women face. It is important to be aware of these risk factors and take action to reduce or eliminate them, thereby reducing the risk of stroke.
The National Stroke Association indicates that for women, stroke is responsible for twice as many deaths as breast cancer as age increases. Since women generally live longer than men, they are more likely to experience a stroke over their lifetimes.
A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is stopped or slowed by a blockage or a burst blood vessel. Brain cells need oxygen and nutrition to do their jobs. Since blood carries oxygen and nutrition to the brain, any depleted blood flow begins to starve those cells of oxygen and nutrition. The involved brain cells will begin to die. In some types of stroke, this process can be limited and, in some cases, even reversed.
For this reason, people who develop stroke symptoms should call 911 immediately. Some treatments for a stroke work only if they are given within the first three hours after the symptoms develop.
What puts women at risk for stroke? Some risk factors affect both men and women. Some factors are unique to women alone, putting them at higher risk than men.
- High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is one of the main risk factors for having a stroke. Chronic blood pressure greater than 130/80 requires evaluation for treatment.
- High blood pressure during pregnancy.
- Certain types of birth control, especially when combined with tobacco use.
- According to the National Institute for Mental Health and the American Heart Association, depression significantly increases the risk of stroke. Depression is a disease that affects women at a higher rate than men.
- Other risk factors for stroke include obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart rhythm), and a family history of stroke.
Prevention of stroke is best achieved by keeping medical conditions under control and making healthy lifestyle changes. Try to eat healthily and get regular physical activity. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and set up screening for your blood pressure, cholesterol, and fasting blood sugar.
Please be aware of the signs and symptoms of acute stroke. If you suspect that someone is having a stroke, call 911 Immediately.
Mount Nittany Health has a Stroke Program dedicated to stroke prevention and risk reduction. This program received the Stroke Gold Plus Award and the Stroke Elite Award from the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association.
Mount Nittany Health also sponsors a monthly Stroke Support Group in partnership with Encompass Health. This no-cost program includes information on stroke prevention and dietary health, recognizing a stroke, and survivor testimonials. The Stroke Support Group meets at the Mount Nittany Medical Center Auditorium on the fourth Tuesday of each month, from 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Support groups like this allow survivors and those who care for them to learn from each other through shared experiences. It also creates a strong support network for caregivers who experience their unique hurdles.