The new guidelines issued by the American Heart Association specifically for preventing stroke in women address factors such as pregnancy, birth control pills, migraine headaches with aura and menopause that put women at particular risk for stroke.

"If you are a woman, you share many of the same risk factors for stroke with men, but your risk is also influenced by hormones, reproductive health, pregnancy, childbirth and other sex-related factors," said Cheryl Bushnell, author of the new scientific statement.

High blood pressure, migraine with aura, atrial fibrillation, diabetes, depression and emotional stress are stroke risk factors that tend to be stronger or more common in women than in men, the guidelines said.

They outline stroke risks unique to women and provide scientifically-based recommendations on how best to treat them.

According to the guidelines, women with a history of high blood pressure before pregnancy should be considered for low-dose aspirin and/or calcium supplement therapy to lower preeclampsia risks.

Women who have preeclampsia have twice the risk of stroke and a four-fold risk of high blood pressure later in life.     Therefore, preeclampsia should be recognised as a risk factor well after pregnancy, and other risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, and obesity in these women should  be treated early, the association said.

 Pregnant women with moderately high blood pressure may be onsidered for blood pressure medication, whereas expectant mothers with severe high blood pressure should be treated.

The guidelines said women should be screened for high blood pressure before taking birth control pills because the combination raises stroke risks.
Preeclampsia and eclampsia are blood pressure disorders during pregnancy that cause major complications, including stroke during or after delivery, premature birth, and risk for stroke well after child-bearing.

The study was published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.


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