WOMEN SHARE UNIQUE RISK FACTORS FOR HEART DISEASE AND STROKE
Birth control pills (oral contraceptives)
Modern oral contraceptives are much safer than the forms used decades ago. In women under the age of 35 who don't smoke, contraceptive use does not increase the risk of stroke. However, in a small proportion of women, oral contraceptives increase the risk of high blood pressure and blood clots. The risk is greater if you: smoke, already have high blood pressure, are over the age of 40, have other risk factors for heart disease or stroke, or already have a blood clotting problem.
Over the nine months of gestation, women may develop certain conditions that put them at higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Pre-eclampsia is a condition that typically starts after the 20th week of pregnancy. It is related to increased blood pressure and protein in the mother's urine (the protein indicates that there is a problem with the kidneys). Although there is no proven way to prevent pre-eclampsia, you may be prone to the condition if you have high blood pressure or are obese prior to becoming pregnant. Other risk factors include being younger than 20 or older than 40, are pregnant with more than one baby, or have diabetes, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or scleroderma. All women should be monitored by their healthcare provider throughout their pregnancy. Have your blood pressure checked often. Pre-eclampsia is treatable under the supervision of a doctor.
- Gestational diabetes: While pregnant, a woman's body must produce extra insulin because increasing levels of pregnancy hormones interfere with the body's ability to use insulin efficiently. If the woman's body can't produce the additional insulin sufficiently, her blood sugar levels may rise, causing gestational diabetes. There are no warning signs so it is important that women have their glucose levels monitored as part of their prenatal care and continue to be monitored throughout their pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of the mother and baby developing diabetes later in life. Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
- The risk of a pregnancy-related stroke can happen at any stage of pregnancy. A high risk time is during childbirth and the first few months after birth. It is usually the result of an underlying problem such as a pre-existing blood vessel malformation or eclampsia.
Menopause is a time when a woman stops having menstrual cycles. If you have reached menopause, your overall risk of heart disease may increase due to the reduction in the hormones estrogen and progesterone produced by your body. Before and after menopause, you may experience:
- An increase in total blood cholesterol, low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol) and triglyceride levels
- A decrease in high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol)
- A tendency toward higher blood pressure
- An increase in central body fat, which can be harmful to your body because you may be more prone to blood clots and blood sugar problems Symptoms such as severe sweating or sleep disturbances
Hormone Replacement Therapy:
Women who are taking estrogen as part of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) have an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. If you are on HRT, discuss with a healthcare professional what this means for you and what your options are.