Women: stroke risk factors you can control

You can control the following risk factors by making lifestyle changes. Your doctor might also suggest medicine to help control some risk factors, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

High blood pressure
High blood pressure is the biggest risk factor for stroke. It makes you four to six times more likely to have a stroke.

Heart disease
The second biggest risk factor for stroke is heart disease, especially a condition called atrial fibrillation (fib-ruh-LAY-shuhn). In atrial fibrillation, the top chambers of the heart beat faster than the rest of the heart. The top chambers also beat more irregularly. This means that the blood doesn’t flow through the heart correctly. This can cause clotting. The clots may come loose and travel to the brain, causing a stroke.

Blood cholesterol levels
High LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and low HDL (good) cholesterol can cause plaque buildup in your arteries. This can increase your risk of stroke.

Cigarette smoking
Cigarette smoking has also been linked to plaque buildup in the carotid artery (a major artery that leads to your brain). Smoking increases your stroke risk in several other ways. The nicotine in cigarettes can raise your blood pressure. Carbon monoxide from smoking reduces the amount of oxygen your blood carries to your brain. Finally, cigarette smoking can actually make your blood thicker and more likely to clot.

Postmenopausal women with a high blood triglyceride level and a waist size larger than 35 inches are five times more likely to have a stroke than other women.

Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose (sugar) levels are too high. Uncontrolled diabetes damages blood vessels throughout the body and in the brain. Because of this damage, having diabetes triples your risk of stroke.
Heavy alcohol use, illegal drug use For women, more than one alcoholic drink a day raises stroke risk. Cocaine use is a common cause of stroke in young people. Long-term marijuana smoking may also be a risk factor for stroke.

Rarely, pregnancy can cause stroke, especially in the first few months after delivery. Pregnancy increases blood pressure, and clots are more easily formed.

Birth control pills or patch
Birth control pills and patches are usually safe for young, healthy women. But women on birth control pills who smoke or have migraines with aura (visual disturbances) have an increased risk of stroke. Women on the patch who smoke also have an increased risk. Researchers still don’t know whether migraines increase stroke risk for women on the patch.

Menopausal hormone therapy
Hormone therapy used to treat menopausal symptoms and prevent osteoporosis can increase stroke risk. If you use menopausal hormone therapy, take the lowest dose for the shortest time. Your doctor can talk more about the benefits and possible risks of menopausal hormone therapy.