Preventing Stroke in Women of All Ages

Preventing Stroke in Women of All Ages

Preventing Stroke in Women of All Ages

Stroke can happen in an instant, and it can be a life-altering event. It inspires a fair amount of fear and worry in many. And for good reason. A stroke can strike anyone — no matter your age, ethnicity or sex. There is no typical stroke victim.

A stroke happens when blood can’t flow to the brain. A blood clot or bleeding in the brain is most often the cause. In the United States, stroke is now more common in women than men. More than half of the 795,000 strokes that occur each year happen to women. Nearly 60 percent of stroke deaths occur in women. 

The American Heart Association leaving site icon recently updated its guidelines for preventing strokes in women. Certain factors can boost a woman's risk for stroke. While women share many of the same risk factors for stroke as men — high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes — they also have other risk factors.

Hormonal changes can raise a woman’s risk for stroke. During pregnancy, some mothers-to-be may develop preeclampsia — a form of high blood pressure. Certain birth control pills can also put a woman at higher risk for stroke — especially if she smokes, is older than 35 and suffers from certain types of migraines.

People with atrial fibrillation (AFib) are four to five times more likely to have a stroke. AFib more commonly occurs in women because AFib afflicts older people and women tend to live longer than men. 

Know the Signs of Stroke 

During a stroke, both men and women often report the following symptoms appear suddenly:

  • Numbness or weakness in the face or limbs
  • Trouble seeing
  • Dizziness or loss of balance and coordination
  • Confusion and trouble speaking or understanding
  • Severe headache with no known cause

Other symptoms may include hiccups, nausea, chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath and a racing heartbeat.

Recognizing these symptoms and getting immediate medical care when they occur can save your life. It may also lower your risk for more serious disability. Compared with men, women have a lower quality of life after a stroke. One recent study found women were more likely to have trouble moving and doing daily activities up to a year after their stroke.

If you suspect you or a loved one is having a stroke, call 911 right away. Time is essential for receiving lifesaving treatment. 

Eight Ways to Help Women Prevent a Stroke

You can‘t change your family history, but you can change some behaviors to help reduce your risk of stroke.

  1. Lower your blood pressure. Maintain a blood pressure of less than 120 (top number) over 80 or less (bottom number). To reach the sweet spot, reduce the salt in your diet, avoid high-cholesterol foods and eat a balanced diet. Take medication if it's recommended by your doctor.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight. Keep your body mass index (BMI) between 20 and 25.
  3. Exercise. Engage in moderate intensity physical activity at least five days a week for 30 minutes.
  4. Don't drink or drink in moderation. Limit alcohol to one serving a day. One standard-sized drink is either a 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer or 1.5-ounce glass of hard liquor.
  5. Take a baby aspirin. Talk to your doctor to make sure aspirin is right for you.
  6. Treat atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is a form of irregular heartbeat that causes clots to form in the heart. See your doctor for the best treatment.
  7. Monitor diabetes. High blood sugar damages blood vessels over time, making clots more likely. Monitor your blood sugar and keep it under control. 
  8. Quit smoking. Smoking speeds up clot formation in a couple of different ways. It thickens your blood and increases the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries.
Your Best Defense Against Stroke

Prevention, early detection and timely treatment of stroke-related risk factors are your best defense for staying healthy. Take advantage of important health screenings covered by your health plan throughout the year. This includes preventive services that may be covered at no cost to you when you use a network provider.*

* Preventive services at no cost applies only to members enrolled in non-grandfathered health plans. You may have to pay all or part of the cost of preventive care if your health plan is grandfathered. To find out if your plan is grandfathered or non-grandfathered, call the customer service number listed on your member ID card.
Sources: Stroke Facts, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023; Stroke Prevention in Women: From Young Adulthood to Older Age, leaving site icon American Heart Association, 2023; Seven Things You Can Do to Prevent a Stroke, leaving site icon Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, 2022

 Originally published 3/16/2016; Revised 2019, 2021, 2023