Hidden Risk Factors for Women

Excerpted from "What Women Need To Know About The Hidden Risk Factors For Stroke," Stroke Connection Magazine, November/December 2004.

This year, more than 100,000 U.S. women under 65 will have a stroke.
Stroke is not a geriatric disease. And it’s not confined to elderly overweight smokers who have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

“Those are the most common risk factors,” according to Steven J. Kittner, M.D., director of the Maryland Stroke Center at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. “But strokes can affect anyone at any age. There are other risk factors for stroke that are especially important for women under 55.” These include:

  • Migraines: Recent research shows that women who suffer from migraines with aura (visual disturbances such as flashing dots or blind spots) can be up to 10 times more likely to suffer a stroke, depending on other risk factors.
  • Birth Control Pills: Women who take even a low-estrogen birth control pill may be twice as likely to have a stroke than those who don’t and the risk may increase if other risk factors are present.
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy: Women who take hormone replacement therapy may have a slightly increased stroke risk.
  • Autoimmune diseases such as diabetes or lupus can increase the risk of stroke.
  • Clotting disorders: Women who’ve had more than one miscarriage may be at higher risk for blood clots, which can increase their chance of a stroke. Other signs of a possible clotting disorder can include previous history of clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis) and livedo reticularis, a mottled purplish discoloration of the skin.

“Risk factors are cumulative,” Dr. Kittner adds. “Reducing even one risk can greatly lower your chances of having a stroke.”