The warning was contained in new guidelines for preventing stroke, issued by the American Heart Association and for the first time aimed specifically at women, who are more likely to die of strokes than men.
Women’s unique vulnerabilities include common pregnancy complications, use of birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, migraines and heart problems, said the guidelines.
“If you are a woman, you share many of the same risk factors for stroke with men,” said Cheryl Bushnell, author of the new scientific statement published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.
Those shared risks include high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes.
“But your risk is also influenced by hormones, reproductive health, pregnancy, childbirth and other sex-related factors,” said Bushnell, a neurologist and director of the Stroke Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.
The guidelines give primary care doctors and obstetrician-gynecologists recommendations on how best to screen and treat women at risk for stroke.
They include rigorous evaluation of any women who have experienced preeclampsia, a dangerous, high blood pressure pregnancy condition which can double a woman’s stroke risk.
Doctors should consider prescribing low dose aspirin or other medications as needed to women who ever had high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Women of reproductive age should be screened for high blood pressure before being given birth control pills, and should be reminded not to smoke.
Older women should be screened for heart beat irregularities known as atrial fibrillation, as this can boost a women’s risk of stroke fivefold after age 75.
Nearly 800,000 strokes occur each year in the United States. More than half are among women, and 60 percent of stroke deaths occur in women.