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Stroke in Women More Common than Most Realize – But Aspirin Can Lower Risk

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Stroke in Women More Common than Most Realize

Stroke in Women More Common than Most Realize – But Aspirin Can Lower Risk

July 14, 2006

By: Maayan S. Heller for Veins1

Recently the American Heart Association (AHA) published new guidelines indicating that aspirin can be useful in preventing first strokes in high-risk women, recommendations that bring to light the often under-recognized threat that strokes present for the fairer gender.

Take Action
Reduce the Risks You Can Affect
  • Stop Smoking – after five years of not smoking, it is thought that the risk of stroke is the same as for a nonsmoker

  • Monitor and control high blood pressure and high cholesterol – regularly have these checked and make dietary and lifestyle adjustments to keep them where they need to be

  • Make sure you’ve been properly evaluated for risk factors – if there is any history of heart disease or abnormal heart rhythm in your family, make sure your doctor is aware of all of these and that you have regular check-ups to monitor

    Take Action if You Think You’re Having a Stroke

    Know the signs of a stroke
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion
  • Trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden difficulty with vision
  • Sudden trouble walking
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache

    Call 911 immediately!
  • Don’t call a doctor or a friend – experts say the sooner you get to an ER, the better chance you have of receiving appropriate treatment and limit any possible disability – says Dr. Bassin, “Time is brain.”


  • In the United States, more than 700,000 men and women suffer strokes every year, and while men are considered to have a greater risk, women actually are at a much higher risk level than most people realize.

    As women grow older, their risk for stroke and heart disease rises and continues to rise as they age. According to the AHA, men have a greater risk for heart attacks, but each year about 40,000 more women than men have strokes, and greater than 60 percent of total stroke deaths occur in women.

    The guidelines, which were made exclusively in regards to women, reinforce previous recommendations of aspirin therapy for prevention of a second ischemic stroke (stroke caused by blockage in the vessel from blood clots).

    “Aspirin helps with prevention of ischemic strokes… and inhibits platelet aggregation, which is an important step in the clotting cascade and development of blood clots,” says Sarice L. Bassin, M.D., a neurointensivist at the Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

    Dr. Bassin says studies have found that women on daily aspirin regimens had a lower incidence of stroke than women who weren’t placed on aspirin, which did not seem to be true for men.

    Strokes are commonly thought of as a male affliction, but cardiovascular diseases, including strokes, are extremely common and devastating to women as well. Many women consider cancer their biggest threat, but the truth is coronary heart disease is actually the leading cause of death for American women and almost twice as many women in the U.S. die from heart disease and stroke as from all forms of cancer.

    Risk Factors for stroke include
  • Age – the older you get, the greater your risk
  • Gender – heart disease is not a man’s disease
  • Family History – Genetics can predispose you to risk
  • Race – Black women have a greater risk of heart disease and stroke than white women
  • Previous heart attack or stroke –significantly raises your risk for recurrence
  • High Triglyceride Levels (triglyceride is the most common type of fat in the body and research suggests that having high triglyceride levels may increase women’s risk more than men’s)
  • Excessive Alcohol Intake
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Obesity and being overweight

    “Women, especially those older than 55, should have their risk factors evaluated,” advises Dr. Bassin, who lists high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, atrial fibrillation [a type of irregular heart rhythm] and previous stroke as the most common risk factors. “Smoking in conjunction with oral birth control puts women at particularly high risk for ischemic stroke,” she adds.

    The new guidelines reflect strong evidence that aspirin, when used appropriately and under physician prescription, can help to prevent ischemic stroke in women.
    The AHA’s guidelines stress that the regular use of aspirin as a preventive measure against cardiovascular events must be made in consultation with a doctor, as there are notable risk factors associated with aspirin use, and dosage amounts need to be monitored.

    “Aspirin can cause increased bleeding due to its mechanism of action on platelets,” says Dr. Bassin. She says that studies have found an increase in life-threatening bleeding when aspirin and clopidogrel (Plavix) were used together.

    The new guidelines are the most recent addition to evidence that supports the use of aspirin for treatment of various cardiovascular conditions. Aspirin has been cited in reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke and death in both men and women who have had previous heart attacks or strokes.

    While the AHA’s recommendations reflect the use of aspirin for women, stroke is of critical concern to hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. Women and men worried about their risks for stroke or other heart problems should talk to their doctors about treatment options like aspirin therapy, and have their risks fully evaluated.

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