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Women and Stroke: Are You at Risk?

Every 4 minutes, someone in the United States dies of a stroke. Everyone can reduce their stroke risk through education and healthy lifestyle behaviors.

Every 4 minutes, someone in the United States dies of a stroke.

Stroke—sometimes called a brain attack—happens when a clot blocks the blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. This serious health condition can also lead to life-changing complications and long-term disability. 

Although anyone can have a stroke at any age, women are more likely than men to have a stroke and to die from it. May is American Stroke Month exit disclaimer icon, a good time to raise awareness about the special challenges women face related to stroke.

Women and Stroke. 1 in 5 women will have a stroke. Learn the risks. Know the signs. Million Hearts.

Learn Your Risk

Women and men share stroke risk factors you can’t modify or control (family history, age, gender, ethnicity, previous stroke and heart disease) and many you can control (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and smoking).

However, some stroke risk factors are unique or stronger among females. Women who have a history of gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, use birth control pills, or use hormone therapy during or after menopause are at increased risk for stroke. Additionally, some risk factors like migraines with aura and atrial fibrillation are more prevalent among women.

Everyone can reduce their stroke risk through education and healthy lifestyle behaviors. Here are seven steps to follow:

  1. Manage blood pressure – normal blood pressure is under 120/80 mmHg for most people
  2. Control cholesterol – total cholesterol levels less than 180 mg/dL is considered optimal
  3. Reduce blood sugar – normal blood glucose level is less than 100 mg/dL
  4. Be physically active – 30 minutes of moderate activity five days per week
  5. Eat right – eat fruits and vegetables, choose whole grains, limit processed foods and salt
  6. Maintain a healthy weight – body mass index between 18.5 and 25 generally indicates a healthy weight
  7. Quit smoking – quitting smoking can also reduce your risk for other life-threating diseases

Health professionals can help reduce stroke among women by:

  1. Screening women for high blood pressure before prescribing a birth control method.
  2. Screening for pregnancy risk factors such as preeclampsia.
  3. Advising women who experience migraine with aura to avoid smoking.
  4. Screening all women age 75 and up for atrial fibrillation.

Know the Signs

During a stroke, every minute counts.  It’s important to recognize the signs and act quickly. Signs of stroke include: sudden numbness, sudden confusion, sudden trouble seeing, sudden loss of balance/coordination, and sudden severe headache. 

Quick treatment can reduce the brain damage that stroke can cause. If you think you or someone you know may be having a stroke, think F.A.S.T.:

  • F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
  • T—Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

One of the most important things to remember about stroke is that we can prevent many of these devastating events and also reduce the severity of a stroke when one occurs. This May, commit to educating the women – and men – in your life about stroke. Visit CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, the Million Hearts and the American Stroke Association websites for more information.


CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention focuses on promoting cardiovascular health and improving quality of care for all and eliminating disparities associated with heart disease and stroke.

The American Stroke Association is devoted to saving people from stroke, teaming with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat stroke.

Million Hearts, an HHS initiative led by CDC and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.

The Department of Health and Human Services and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality have just awarded grants to establish seven regional cooperatives across 12 states. All seven and the over 5000 clinicians with whom they work with help implement best-practice guidelines and the latest research to improve the heart health of millions of Americans.  Find out more here:


1 in 5 women will have a stroke. Are you at risk? learn more from @MillionHeartsUS & @American_Stroke: #StrokeMonth


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