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1st stroke guides for women cite risks

– The first stroke guidelines to specifically target women emphasize prevention earlier in life and recognize unique female risks for the disorder, including pregnancy and birth control pills.

While women and men share many of the same risk factors, pregnancy, childbirth and hormones also affect a woman’s chance of stroke, sparking a need for gender-specific guidelines, said the authors of a scientific statement by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association in the journal Stroke.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain stops, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, migraine with aura, emotional stress and irregular heartbeats are more common or stronger stroke-risk factors in women than men.

Researchers said pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, called pre-eclampsia, should be considered a risk factor for stroke later in life. Doctors should treat other stroke risk factors like smoking, obesity and high cholesterol in these women early.

The research also suggests that doctors treat women with high blood pressure prior to pregnancy to lower their risk of developing pre-eclampsia. And doctors should consider treating women who have moderately high blood pressure during pregnancy with heart drugs, said Cheryl Bushnell, the lead study author.

Women who are considering birth control pills should be screened for high blood pressure prior to use, and women who have migraine headaches with aura should stop smoking, they said.