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Your Life, Your Health: Women and stroke

Updated: Monday, March 17 2014, 05:31 PM EDT
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in women and according to the National Stroke Association about 425,000 women suffer one each year. That number is 55,000 more than men. In fact, women are much more prone to having one than the opposite sex and doctors are unsure why.

"Maybe it is hormonal? We're not quite sure." Says Dr. Gary Bernardini, Albany Medical Center's leading stroke expert.

Director of Stroke and Neuro Critical Care at Albany Med, Dr. Bernardini explains that while men and women share similar risk factors for stroke - many also differ. In February, the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association released the first ever guidelines for preventing stroke specifically in women. Many of the new risk factors are influenced by things like pregnancy, contraceptives, and severe migraines.

"The typical risk factors, high bloods pressure, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, smoking, family history .. that's for both men and women." He says. "Dr. Bushnell who is a female stroke neurologist has been spearheading this (new risk factor study). And there's some new findings that are significant."

Preeclampsia is highlighted in the new guidelines.

"Preeclampsia for women is high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy. And if that's associated with women who had high blood pressure before that, there's about a 4-fold risk of stroke during pregnancy." Dr. Bernardini says.

Other stroke risks for women are migraine with aura, which can be a sensitivity to light and dizziness, obesity and atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat). Women also live longer than men so there's more frequency of older women suffering from stroke.

Dr. Bernardini says if a woman is of child-bearing age with preeclampsia or history of hypertension going into childbirth they should be screened ahead of time.

"These are new factors and new findings we're definitely going to be looking at to prevent a stroke which is better than treating one." He says.

For more details on the guidelines and ways to reduce stroke:
Your Life, Your Health: Women and stroke

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