About 55,000 more strokes occur in women than men in the United States every year. Stroke is the 3rd leading cause of death for women, while the 5th leading cause for men.
On average, 1 in 5 women has a stroke.
Several stroke risk factors are hormonal and unique to women:
- Oral birth control pills;
- Hormone replacement therapy.
Major stroke factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity affect men and women equally.
Other stroke factors tend to be more common in women:
Women also tend to live longer than men, giving them a longer time to be at risk for a stroke.
If a woman is taking oral birth control pills and has high-blood pressure or smokes, her risk of suffering a blood clot and/or stroke increases significantly. Middle-aged women are also at a higher risk than younger women when taking birth control pills.
One high-risk stroke factor in pregnant women is the risk of preeclampsia (a blood pressure disorder during pregnancy). Women with high-blood pressure who become pregnant should take extra precautions and consult their physician about preventing preeclampsia and stroke. If a woman has preeclampsia, she is twice as likely to suffer a stroke. Preeclampsia is also a life-long risk factor because it causes women to be four times more likely to have high-blood pressure later in life.
Hormone replacement therapy increases the risk for a stroke. It was previously thought to lower stroke risk.
Specific stroke risks in women also vary throughout life, depending on the time of pregnancies and menopause.