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Heart Disease and Stroke in Women: Reducing Your Risk - Topic Overview

What increases a woman's risk? continued...

But women have certain other things that can raise their risk. These include pregnancy-related problems as well as medicines they may be taking, such as birth control pills or hormone therapy.

Menopause. A woman's risk of heart disease and stroke is higher after menopause. This higher chance is not completely understood. But cholesterol, high blood pressure, and fat around the abdomen—all things that raise the risk for heart disease and stroke—also increase around this time.

Hormone therapy (HT). If you have menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, you might consider hormone therapy to relieve your symptoms. Because menopause and hormones are linked with the health of your blood vessels, you and your doctor will discuss your health and your risk of heart disease and stroke to make sure hormone therapy is safe for you. Risk for heart disease and other health problems varies based on when you start HT in menopause and how long you take it. Short-term use of hormone therapy in early menopause has less risk than when it is started later in menopause. Risk also depends on the type of HT used (estrogen or estrogen plus progestin).1

Birth control pills. Using birth control pills might increase your risk if you smoke and are older than 35 or if you have a family history of atherosclerosis or blood-clotting disorders. Healthy, young, nonsmoking women probably do not increase their risk of heart disease and stroke when they take low-dose birth control pills.

Pregnancy-related problems. Problems during pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke later in life. Experts are studying whether other pregnancy-related problems are linked to heart disease. Tell your doctor about any problems you had during pregnancy.

Immune diseases. Some immune-related diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, have been linked with a higher risk of heart disease in women.

How does your doctor check your risk?

Your doctor can check your risk for a heart attack and stroke by assessing the number of risk factors you have. Your doctor will look at things like your cholesterol, blood pressure, and your age and race.

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