woman and stroke

Gender Puts Women More at Risk for Stroke

In the battle of the sexes, here’s one that women – often unknowingly – take the lead in:

About 55,000 more women than men have strokes every year. Strokes kill more women than men annually, making it the #3 leading cause of death in women.

“If you’re a woman, you share a lot of the same risk factors for stroke as men,” says Dr. Pedro McDougal, Medical Director at Weslaco Regional Rehabilitation Hospital. “But, a woman’s risk also is influenced by hormones, reproductive health, pregnancy, child-birth and other gender-related factors.”

For example, birth control pills may double the risk of stroke, especially in women with high blood pressure or who smoke. And, according to the American Heart Association, hormone replacement therapy – once thought to reduce stroke risk – in fact, actually increases it.

“Stroke risk also increases for pregnant women, especially those with preeclampsia. And, the risk increases in women who suffer migraines with aura and smoke,” McDougal says. Add this to other general risk factors for stroke like family history, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, lack of exercise and being overweight –and it can paint a grim picture for women.

But according to the American Heart Association, there are scientifically-based ways a woman can reduce the risks of stroke that are unique to being a female.

These include:

  1. Pregnancy – Pregnant women with severe high blood pressure should be treated with safe blood pressure medications.
  2. Preeclampsia – A woman with preeclampsia should talk to her healthcare provider about whether to take a low-dose aspirin starting in the 2nd trimester
  3. Birth Control Pills – A woman should be screened for high blood pressure before taking the pills, and should not smoke while on the medication.
  4. Hormone Replacement Therapy – Hormone replacement therapy should not be used to prevent stroke in postmenopausal women.
  5. Migraines with Aura & Smoking – Smokers who have migraines with aura should quit.
  6. Atrial Fibrillation – All women older than 75 years should be screened for atrial fibrillation.
“Whatever stage of life a woman is in, it’s important that she be aware of all the risk factors of stroke,” McDougal says. “As it’s often said, ‘knowledge is power.’ And in this case, the more knowledgeable a woman is about her stroke risk factors, the more she’ll be able to understand how she can be affected and work with her physician or healthcare provider as appropriate to reduce them.”

Weslaco Regional Rehabilitation Hospital is a 32-bed, free-standing rehabilitation hospital that provides intensive physical rehabilitation services to patients recovering from strokes, brain, spinal cord, and orthopedic injuries, and other impairments as a result of injuries or illnesses. The hospital treats more than 600 patients annually from Mid-Valley and its surrounding areas. For more information, visit

906 S. James St. • Weslaco, TX 78596  (P) 956-969-2222 • (F) 956-969-2221