Women and stroke: specific risk factors and reducing your risk
In honour of World Stroke Day, we explore the lesser-known stroke symptoms. There are no age or gender barriers when it comes to stroke. This article describes the specific risks factors faced by women and provides tips on reducing your risk.
Health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and atrial fibrillation (AF) can raise the risk of stroke in both women and men. Smoking and a lack of physical activity can also increase your stroke risk, regardless of gender.
Below, we take a look at some other risk factors that may affect women. (If you are transgender or non-binary, some of this information might be relevant to you too.)
Migraine affects more women than men. Although it is not a direct cause of stroke, it’s linked with a slightly increased risk of ischaemic stroke if you have migraine with aura. The added risk is small, but you might not be able to take some types of contraceptive pill. Speak to your GP for individual advice and don’t stop taking any prescribed medication without consulting them first.
Combined oral contraceptives
Taking the combined oral contraceptive pill (‘combi pill’) is linked to a small increase in the risk of stroke for some women with certain risk factors. It’s important to note that the risk is very low, but women should discuss their medical history and individual risk factors with a medical professional when considering contraceptive options. They can advise on the best options if the combi pill is not suitable for you.
Women tend to live longer than men on average, and advancing age is a significant risk factor for stroke. As you age, the likelihood of developing conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes increases and can contribute to stroke risk. Women tend to have strokes at a later age than men, and nearly half of all strokes (45%) in women happen past the age of 80.
Reducing your risk of stroke
While you can’t avoid some risk factors like ageing, there are lots of steps you can take to improve your health and reduce your stroke risk. Here are some things to consider.
Making healthy lifestyle changes can significantly reduce stroke risk. This includes having a balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activity. Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption will also help to improve your health.
Blood pressure control
Regular blood pressure monitoring and management are an important part of stroke prevention. Women should work with their healthcare providers to ensure their blood pressure is within a healthy range and regularly get it checked by their GP, nurse, or pharmacist if they have any concerns.
Having regular check-ups with a healthcare professional is important, particularly if you have any health conditions linked to an increased risk of stroke such as diabetes or high cholesterol. Your healthcare professional can advise on how best to manage and treat any conditions you have.
Recognising the signs of a stroke and seeking immediate medical attention can save lives. The acronym FAST (Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties, Time to call 999) can help you identify some of the most common warning signs. There are also other less well-known symptoms of stroke that you should also be aware of. You can read more about the symptoms of stroke by visiting our page, Stroke symptoms.
Knowledge and proactive steps to manage your own risks can reduce the likelihood of having a stroke. By staying informed, adopting a healthy lifestyle, and working closely with healthcare professionals, women can take charge of their health. For more in-depth information on this topic and other risk factors which can affect women, please refer to our women and stroke guide.
For more information
We have lots of information available on this subject, and other related topics that may be of interest. For more information, please visit our guides and factsheets page. For individual advice, consult a medical professional such as your GP.