Health Beat with Dr. Alicia Arnold: Stroke prevention guidelines for women

This month, the first-ever set of stroke prevention guidelines designed specifically for women was released. In our Health Beat with Dr. Alicia Arnold, we’re discussed the set of guidelines from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association and important points women need to know.

Meghan Kulig: How are these guidelines addressing women's health?

Dr. Arnold: While some risk factors for stroke affect both men and women, like high cholesterol and not getting enough exercise, there are also risk factors that only affect women. Examples include risk factors related to pregnancy, oral contraception, and hormone replacement. There are also certain medical conditions, more common in women, which increase stroke risk. An example would be migraine headaches with aura.

Meghan Kulig: How common are strokes in women?

Dr. Arnold: It's the third leading cause of death for women, and importantly it can also cause significant disability, which can lower quality of life. I think it's encouraging to see studies recognizing differences in men's and women's health and guidelines focused on improving the health of women.

Meghan Kulig: Let's talk about some of the risks associated with pregnancy.

Dr. Arnold: Women who have had preeclampsia, which is a condition related to high blood pressure during pregnancy, have about twice the risk of stroke later in life. So it's important to let your healthcare provider know if you've had preeclampsia, even if it was 30 years ago. Also, women who have a history of high blood pressure can discuss with their physician if taking low-dose aspirin or calcium supplements would be helpful for blood pressure control during pregnancy.

Meghan Kulig: Can you tell us a few highlights of the stroke-prevention guidelines from this report?

Dr. Arnold: The study authors recommend that women be screened for high blood pressure before starting birth control pills, since the combination increases a woman's risk for stroke. They also mentioned the importance of stopping smoking for women who experience migraine headaches with aura, since smoking can increase the stroke risk for these patients. They also recommend that women over the age of 75 be screened for atrial fibrillation, which is a kind of irregular heartbeat that increases stroke risk.

Meghan Kulig: Can you review a few of the signs of stroke that people should be aware of?

Dr. Arnold: A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain either becomes blocked or bleeds. A good way to remember what signs to look for is FAST. F-Face. Is the patient's face drooping, numb, or is their smile uneven? A-Arms. Does the person have weakness or numbness in an arm? If they lift their arms, does one arm drift downward? S-Speech. Is there any trouble speaking? T-Time. Time to call 911. Time lost can mean brain lost. Also, note the time that symptoms first started. How long symptoms have been going on may affect what kind of treatment is best for the patient.

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