Picture a scene from a movie or TV show that featured a person having a heart attack. The scene features a male victim - doesn't it? While this is a common scene in our media, it can cause many women to underestimate their own risk of cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, news is getting out that women can be far more vulnerable than men. But this doesn't end with heart attacks.
While they don't lend themselves quite as well to dramatic storylines, strokes can be just as deadly as heart attacks. And did you know that 55,000 more women than men suffer a stroke every year? In fact, strokes are the third-leading cause of death in women in the U.S. Despite their prevalence, we still have a ways to go in understanding what makes women so vulnerable, especially when compared with men.
Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital have been investigating women's risk factors. After evaluating a number of factors, particularly those related to women's hormones, the researchers identified a few key risk factors. These include being less than 10 years old at menarche, being less than 45 years old at menopause, having low levels of the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS), taking oral estrogen or combined oral contraceptives, and having a history of pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, or hypertension.
These factors are common, and many more women will have these risk factors than will actually experience a stroke. However, women should be aware that these factors increase their stroke risk. So if you have any of these risk factors, it's important to take steps to improve your cardiovascular health.
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If you have any of these risk factors, here's how you can protect yourself:
First the obvious: If you are still smoking - quit. If you're seriously overweight and it's interfering with your ability to be active, ideally you will shed some pounds. If your doctor has told you that you have prehypertension - lower your blood pressure using Advanced Blood Pressure Formula so things don't escalate.
Next, try to add fish oil to your diet either by eating fish two to three times per week or taking a supplement. This will help to keep your blood less sticky and flowing more easily which will help reduce your risk of having a stroke. If you currently exercise only a couple of times per week, try to walk 20 minutes on the days you're doing nothing.
If your blood sugar is on the high end of normal, tighten the reins on your diet. Try less sugary foods, especially in the evening. If you crave sweets, try eating berries or half of an organic apple.
And lastly, if you feel very fatigued with seemingly no apparent reason and occasionally feel what seems like a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath and/or excessive sweating - go see your doctor today. You could have atrial fibrillation. If you do, this should be addressed, as it significantly increases your risk for stroke.
Better Health and Living for Women,
Stacie L. Demel, Steven Kittner, Sylvia H. Ley, Mollie McDermott, Kathryn M. Rexrode. Stroke Risk Factors Unique to Women. Stroke, 2018; STROKEAHA.117.018415 DOI: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.117.018415.