When it comes to preventing strokes, women and men are definitely not on equal footing. In recognition of our gender’s unique stroke risk factors, in February 2014, the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association released the first-ever guidelines for stroke prevention in women. The recommendations, which were published in the journal Stroke, recognize that a woman’s risk is strongly influenced by hormones, reproductive history, and other gender-specific factors. We also face a bigger uphill recovery after a stroke than do men.
Many of the new guidelines are targeted to women of childbearing age. For example, they suggest women with a history of high blood pressure take low-dose aspirin starting in the 12th week of pregnancy to lower their risk of preeclampsia—high blood pressure during pregnancy. And, they recommend that women be screened for high blood pressure before they start taking birth control pills (oral contraceptives increase stroke risk). But there are also a few important pieces of advice for older women. Those who are over age 75 should get screened for atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm that is a leading cause of stroke. And women between the ages of 65 and 79 should consider taking a daily baby aspirin (81 mg) to prevent stroke.