New stroke guidelines could lower the number of victims.
The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Stroke Association (ASA) have issued stroke prevention guidelines which focus on women’s unique risks. This is the first time guidelines have been issued which focus on stroke prevention in women.
Annually, about 800,000 people in the U.S. experience a new or recurrent stroke, which develops when a blood vessel to the brain is occluded by a clot or ruptures. Stroke, which remains the fifth leading cause of death in men, is now the third leading cause for women, and additional public heath efforts and attention are now focused on reducing the risk factors placing women at a higher risk of stroke.
Women share many stroke risk factors with men, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and obesity, but they also have a set of unique concerns that should be addressed. Pregnancy, childbirth and hormones play a role in stroke risk for women. In addition, women live longer, so they have a higher lifetime risk of stroke.
Some recommendations in the new guidelines include:
- Women with a history of high blood pressure before pregnancy should be considered for low-dose aspirin therapy, or calcium supplementation while pregnant.
- Pregnant women with significantly elevated blood pressure should talk with their doctor about possible blood pressure medicine.
- Before beginning oral contraceptives, women should be checked for high blood pressure because the combination elevates risk for stroke.
- Unless bleeding is a concern, a low-dose aspirin every other day is beneficial to reduce stroke risk in women 65 and older.
- Women who suffer from migraines with aura should quit smoking.
- Women over 75 should be screened for atrial fibrillation risks.
The key to surviving a stroke and reducing long term disability is recognition of early warning signs and symptoms.
Key symptoms such as confusion, dizziness, slurred speech or difficulty word finding or expressing thoughts, along with weakness or numbness or tingling in one arm, or facial drooping or weakness, should constitute a medical emergency and an immediate call to 911.