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Stroke Prevention for Women: Start Early

As new guidelines take hold, doctors are focusing on cutting risk at a younger age


Certain pregnancy-related conditions affect risk, McCullough said. "If you have pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, you are fourfold more likely to develop high blood pressure in adulthood and two times more likely to have a stroke," she said. Keeping blood pressure under control is crucial.

Stroke during pregnancy is not common, but experts have found the risk is highest in the 12 weeks after giving birth. So women who have a new headache, blurred vision or other unusual symptoms should be checked out.

Depression and emotional stress also boost stroke risk, McCullough said, so your doctor should ask about that, too.

The guidelines also recommend focusing on a healthy lifestyle that helps prevent stroke. These measures include keeping weight at a healthy level, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, getting regular physical activity and keeping alcohol intake moderate, if women drink.

"This article is going to be very helpful in getting the message out to the primary care physicians," said Dr. Ravi Dave, director of interventional cardiology at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center in Santa Monica.

He noted that some of the risk factors for stroke may be news to women, such as the link between depression and stroke. "I would encourage these patients with depression to get treated for it," he said.

In recent years, Dave said, researchers have been pinpointing differences in heart attack symptoms between men and women. Now, the same thing is happening with risk factors for strokes, teasing out the gender differences. For women, the message is clear, he said: Alert your doctor if you have any of these stroke risk factors, or suspect you do.

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