Monday, June 30, 2014

Million Hearts Colorado: Young Women and Heart Disease

Stroke Prevention for Women: Start Early

Stroke typically affects women in their later years, but doctors are now beginning to focus on helping them cut their risk earlier in life.

This increased attention to risk factors in early adult years was recommended by new guidelines that were released earlier this year by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association.


Those guidelines are now being phased into practice by primary care doctors, experts say. For women, that translates to more screening for risk factors during office visits and more interventions to ensure a healthy lifestyle to reduce stroke risk. 

Women have unique risk factors which include the use of birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy after menopause, which both increase stroke risk. Pregnancy-associated disorders also may have long-lasting effects on a woman's health and her stroke risk.

And here's what women can expect if their primary care doctor adheres to the new guidelines:

Your doctor will screen for high blood pressure. It is the most changeable risk factor, and it's more common in women than in men.

Depending on your age, your doctor may screen for atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm, by measuring pulse rate and doing an electrocardiogram.

Your doctor may ask you about any history of headaches. Migraine headache with aura can increase stroke risk and reducing the frequency of migraine should be the goal as a possible way to reduce stroke risk.

Certain pregnancy-related conditions affect risk too. If you have pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, you are fourfold more likely to develop high blood pressure in adulthood and two times more likely to have a stroke. Keeping blood pressure under control is crucial. Stroke during pregnancy is not common, but experts have found the risk is highest in the 12 weeks after giving birth. So women who have a new headache, blurred vision or other unusual symptoms should be checked out.

Depression and emotional stress also boost stroke risk, so your doctor should ask about that, too.

In fact, a new study suggests that young women are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or die of heart disease if they suffer from depression. Researchers looked at patients with suspected or established heart disease who were undergoing coronary angiography – a medical procedure used to diagnose narrowing in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. On the same day of the procedure, the patients answered nine questions assessing their state of mind.

If the patient was experiencing moderate to severe depression, and was under 55 years old, researchers found she had double the chance of experiencing a heart attack in the next few years. Depressed women under 55 were also twice as likely to have heart disease or to die from any cause during that time period than those who were not depressed. Men and those women older than 55 with depression did not show the same increased risk. Depression is as powerful a risk factor for heart disease as diabetes and smoking. Read the article here.

The guidelines also recommend focusing on a healthy lifestyle that helps prevent stroke. These measures include keeping weight at a healthy level, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, getting regular physical activity and keeping alcohol intake moderate, if women drink.

Learn more about the new guidelines for reducing stroke risk in women at the American Heart Association.

High blood pressure management is a key strategy of the  Million Hearts Initiative, an effort to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over five years.  Colorado participates in this initiative and you can too. Be one in a million - make your commitment and pledge today.

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