Women’s Stroke Awareness
Acting F.A.S.T. is key to stroke survival. Face: Does one side of the face droop when smiling? Arms: Does one arm drift downward when both arms are raised? Speech: Is speech slurred or strange when repeating a simple phrase? Time: If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death for women. In the United States, 1 in 5 women between the ages of 55 and 75 will have a stroke.
Surprised? You’re not alone. Many women do not know their risk of having a stroke.
These facts are alarming, but there is good news: 4 in 5 strokes are preventable. That’s why it’s important to know your risk for stroke and take action to protect your health. And you can learn more about how CDC and its partners are leading programs to help women reduce their risk for stroke.
What is a stroke?
A stroke, sometimes called a brain attack, happens when blood flow to an area of the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. Blood carries oxygen to cells in the body. When brain cells are starved of blood, they die.
Stroke is a medical emergency. It’s important to act F.A.S.T. and get treatment as soon as possible (see sidebar). Call 9-1-1 right away if you or someone you are with shows any signs of having a stroke.
Some treatments for stroke work only if given within the first 3 hours after symptoms start. A delay in treatment increases the risk of permanent brain damage or death.
What puts women at risk for stroke?
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a main risk factor for stroke.
More than 2 in 5 women have blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/80 mm Hg or are taking medicine to control their blood pressure. Only about 1 in 4 of those women have their blood pressure controlled to below 130/80 mm Hg.
Stroke risk increases with age, and women live longer than men.
Women also have unique risk factors for stroke, including:
- Having high blood pressure during pregnancy.
- Using certain types of birth control medicines, especially if they also smoke. About 1 in 9 women smoke.
- Having higher rates of depression.
Why are African American women at higher risk for stroke?
Stroke is a leading cause of death among African American women, who are more likely to die from a stroke than non-Hispanic White women or Hispanic women in the United States. African Americans have the highest rate of death due to stroke among all racial and ethnic groups.
Almost 3 in 5 African American women are diagnosed with high blood pressure (greater than or equal to 130/80 mm Hg), which is a much higher proportion than White women.
African American women are diagnosed with higher rates of obesity (nearly 3 in 5) and diabetes (more than 1 in 8), conditions that increase the risk for stroke, than White women.
Eating too much salt or sodium can raise your blood pressure, putting you at higher risk of stroke.
Sickle cell disease, a common genetic disorder in African Americans, can lead to a stroke. About 1 in 365 Black or African American babies are born with sickle cell disease.
Smoking greatly increases stroke risk. About 1 in 8 African American women smoke.
Why are Hispanic women at risk for stroke?
Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death for Hispanic women. High blood pressure is one of the main risk factors for a stroke. More than 1 in 3 Hispanic women have blood pressure above 130/90 mm Hg.7
People with diabetes are at higher risk of stroke. More than 1 in 9 Hispanic women have diabetes—including many who don’t know they have the disease. Among adults of Hispanic origin, diabetes is most common in people of Mexican and Puerto Rican ancestry. Obesity increases the risk of stroke. About half of Hispanic women have obesity.
How can I prevent stroke?
A woman getting her blood pressure checked.
High blood pressure is one of the main risk factors for a stroke. Measure your blood pressure regularly to help your health care team diagnose any health problems early.
Most strokes can be prevented by keeping medical conditions under control and making healthy lifestyle changes:
Know your ABCS of heart and brain health:
Aspirin: Aspirin may help reduce your risk for stroke, but you should check with your doctor before taking aspirin, because it can make some types of stroke worse. Before taking aspirin, talk with your doctor about whether it is right for you.
Blood pressure: Control your blood pressure with healthy lifestyle changes (see below) and take your blood pressure medicines as directed. Learn more about blood pressure.
Cholesterol: Manage your cholesterol with healthy lifestyle changes and take your medicine as directed. Learn more about cholesterol.
Smoking: Don’t start smoking. If you do smoke, learn how to quit.
Make lifestyle changes:
Eat healthy: Choose healthy foods most of the time, including foods with less salt, or sodium, to lower your blood pressure, and that are rich in fiber and whole grains to manage your cholesterol. Learn more about healthy eating external icon basics from ChooseMyPlate.gov, as well as small steps you can take to boost your healthy eating habits external icon from the “Live to the Beat” campaign.
Get regular physical activity: Regular physical activity helps you reach and maintain a healthy weight and keeps your heart and blood vessels healthier. Find inspiration and tips for getting regular physical activity external icon from the “Live to the Beat” campaign.
Work with your health care team:
Talk to your doctor about your chances of having a stroke, including your age and whether anyone in your family has had a stroke. Learn how to find the right doctor for you external icon from the “Live to the Beat” campaign.
Get other health conditions under control, such as diabetes or heart disease.
What is CDC doing about stroke?
CDC and its partners are leading national initiatives and programs to reduce rates of death and disability caused by stroke and to help women live longer, healthier lives.
CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (DHDSP) provides resources to all 50 states to address heart disease and stroke, as well as helping lead or support the following:
The WISEWOMAN program provides low-income, underinsured, or uninsured women with chronic disease risk factor screening, lifestyle programs, and referral services in an effort to prevent heart disease and strokes.
For more information on women and stroke, visit the following websites.
High Blood Pressure
High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy
Women and Heart Disease
Million Hearts® and CDC Foundation
American Stroke Association (ASA): About Strokeexternal icon
ASA Resources in Spanish: Recursos en Españolexternal icon
National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: Strokeexternal icon
Heart Health and Pregnancyexternal icon
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS): Stroke Information Pageexternal icon
NINDS Know Stroke Campaignexternal icon
NINDS Know Stroke Campaign Spanish Toolkitexternal icon