Women are often at higher risks for stroke than men

May 31, 2004|By Khrys Thompson

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. During the past month, the American Stroke Association and other health organizations have focused on educating the public on the warning signs and risk factors of a stroke.

Many factors that increase the risk of stroke can be modified, treated or controlled, but some cannot be. The more risk factors, the higher the risk for suffering a stroke. The best way to prevent a stroke is to reduce stroke risk factors.

Risk factors that cannot be changed or controlled include age, race, gender and family history. The risk for stroke increases with age; it doubles for every decade an individual ages beyond 55. Blacks and Hispanics have a higher risk for stroke than other races.

Stroke also is more common in men than women. Since women generally live longer than men, stroke is more prevalent in older women, and more women than men die of stroke. The risk for stroke also is greater if you or close relatives (parent, brother or sister) have a prior history of stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA). TIAs are "warning strokes" that produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce your risk of a major stroke. About 14 percent of people who have had a stroke will have another stroke within one year. Up to 25 percent will have another stroke within five years.


Risk factors that a person can influence include some health conditions, such as high blood pressure or hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, weight and physical activity, plus use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

After age, high blood pressure is the second most important stroke risk factor. Having diabetes doubles the risk for stroke because of the circulation problems associated with the disease. Approximately 25 percent of people with diabetes die of stroke. Also, high cholesterol can lead to coronary artery disease and heart attack, which can damage the heart muscle and increase the risk for stroke. Other heart problems, such as atrial fibrillation, endocarditis, heart valve conditions and cardiomyopathy, also increase the risk for stroke.

Inactivity, obesity or a combination of the two can increase risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. So go on a brisk walk or take the stairs. Try to get a total of at least 30 minutes of activity on most or all days.

Cigarette smoking is a major, preventable risk factor for stroke due to its reducing the amount of oxygen in blood. It also damages the walls of blood vessels, making clots more likely to form. Using some kinds of birth control pills combined with smoking cigarettes greatly increases stroke risk.

Drinking an average of more than one alcoholic drink a day for women or more than two drinks a day for men can raise blood pressure and may increase risk for stroke. Drug abuse carries a high risk of stroke.

For more information regarding stroke prevention programs, including diabetes management, cardiac wellness, walking program, and stroke screenings in the community, please contact Washington County Hospital's Health Management Department at 301-790-8296.

- Sources:, American Heart Association ( and American Stroke Association (

Khrys Thompson is the NeuroRehab and Pediatric Program manager for Total Rehab Care, a department of Washington County Hospital.

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