A Woman’s Risk of Stroke


Dr. Leia Edenfiel
Vascular Surgeon
McLeod Vascular Associates

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death for men. But for women, it is third. In this region, there are more women having strokes than men.

Stroke and Blood Pressure

Age is the number one risk factor for stroke. High blood pressure is number two, therefore, it is important that blood pressure is monitored. Blood pressure is a risk factor that can be easily treated. No one can stop from getting older, but everyone can work with their physician to maintain their cholesterol and blood pressure. Keeping both of these within healthy limits will make a big difference.

Stroke and Pregnancy

A stroke can also occur during pregnancy. In fact, five to ten percent of pregnant women will suffer from preeclampsia or some other hypertensive disorder. Preeclampsia is a condition where a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and significant amounts of protein in her urine.

Medical studies now indicate that anyone with a history of pregnancy and preeclampsia is at an increased risk of stroke later in life. And, what has been discovered is that the issues – the increased stroke risk – are 30 or 40 years later in life. The belief is that the combination of high blood pressure and pregnancy causes an injury to the lining of the blood vessels. This damage to the lining increases the stroke risk. The take home point here is to be sure to have your blood pressure checked during physician visits.  Hormone therapy or oral contraceptives will also increase the risk of stroke for those with high blood pressure.

Stroke and Migraines

Migraine headaches are more common in women than men. Migraines can often be crippling, sending a woman to a quiet, darkened room to alleviate the pain. Migraines are believed to put a woman at greater risk of stoke than even family history of heart problems or high cholesterol. Add smoking and oral contraceptives to the migraine mix, and you have a potentially destructive combination.

A migraine by definition means one side of your head hurts, or pounds – this is considered the “migraine” part of it. It is associated with nausea and head pain. When there is an aura it indicates one has a focal neurologic symptom that occurs prior to the headache; such as, the arm goes weak, vision is lost on one side or the other, and flashy lights may be seen. These symptoms occur 15 to 20 minutes before the headache generally appears. So, for all women who suffer migraines (and remember more women than men have migraines), and they are on oral contraceptives and smoke cigarettes, there is a greater increased risk of having a stroke. Disability is another huge issue with stroke. For those who have suffered a stroke, many are most likely living with a significant amount of disability. They may be unable to talk, see or work. Stroke is also the leading cause of serious long-term disability.

Fortunately, the overall incidence of stroke in the United States has decreased. We believe this is due to a focus on the treatment of blood pressure.

It is essential, if at all possible, to prevent a stroke from occurring, or at best, seek medical treatment quickly at the first onset of symptoms. Everyone should be able to recognize stroke symptoms and act quickly.

Common stroke symptoms in both men and women include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg – especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Call 911 immediately if you have any of these symptoms.

Dr. Leia Edenfield is a vascular surgeon with McLeod Vascular Associates. She received her medical degree from the Partnership of the Medical College of Georgia, Augusta University and the University of Georgia. Dr. Edenfield completed her Residency at Integrated Vascular Surgery at the Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine. Dr. Edenfield is accepting new patients. To schedule an appointment, please call (843) 366-3755.

A Woman’s Risk of Stroke