Women and Stroke

The lifetime risk of stroke for women between the ages of 55 and 75 in the United States is 1 in 5.1 Stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer does, making stroke the third leading cause of death for women.2

Surprised? You’re not alone. Many women do not know their risk of having a stroke.

These facts are alarming, but there is good news: 4 in 5 strokes are preventable.3 That’s why it’s important to know your risk for stroke and take action to reduce the risk. And you can learn more about how CDC and its partners are leading programs to help women prevent stroke.

What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when blood flow to an area of the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. Blood carries oxygen to cells in the body. When brain cells are starved of blood, they die.

Stroke is a medical emergency. It’s important to get treatment as soon as possible (see sidebar). Some treatments for stroke work only if given within the first 3 hours after symptoms start. A delay in treatment increases the risk of permanent brain damage or death.

What puts women at risk for stroke?

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a main risk factor for stroke. More than 2 in 5 women have blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/80 mmHg or are taking medicine to control their blood pressure.4 Only about 1 in 4 of those women have their blood pressure controlled to below 130/80 mmHg.4

Stroke risk increases with age, and women live longer than men.

Women also have unique risk factors for stroke, including:

  • Having high blood pressure during
  • Using certain types of birth control medicines, especially if they also smoke. About 1 in 8 women smoke.5
  • Having higher rates of depression. 6

Why are African American women at higher risk for stroke?

Alyson McCord

Alyson McCord struggled to control her high blood pressure for years and eventually had a stroke. She encourages all women to advocate for their health. Read Alyson’s story.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death among African American women, and they are more likely to die from a stroke than non-Hispanic white women or Hispanics in the United States.2 African Americans have the highest rate of death due to stroke.7

Almost half of African Americans have a risk factor that can lead to a stroke.8

  • More than 2 in 5 African American women are diagnosed high blood pressure (greater than or equal to 140/90 mm Hg), which is a much higher rate than white women have.8
  • African American women are diagnosed with higher rates of obesity (nearly 3 in 5) and diabetes (more than 1 in 8), conditions that increase the risk for stroke.10,11
  • Eating too much salt or sodium can raise your blood pressure, putting you at higher risk of stroke. Researchers think there may be a gene that makes African Americans more sensitive to the effects of salt, which in turn increases the risk of developing high blood pressure.12
  • Sickle cell disease, a common genetic disorder in African Americans, can lead to a stroke. About 1 in 365 black or African American babies are born with sickle cell disease.13
  • Smoking greatly increases stroke risk. About 1 in 7 black or African American women smoke.9

Why are Hispanic women at risk for stroke?

Stroke is the third leading cause of death for Hispanic women.14

  • High blood pressure is one of the main risk factors for a stroke. About 1 in 4 Hispanic women have blood pressure above 140/90 mmHg, and nearly half of them do not have it under control.15
  • People with diabetes are at higher risk of stroke. More than 1 in 9 Hispanic women have diabetes—including many who don’t know they have the disease.11 Among adults of Hispanic origin, diabetes is most common in people of Mexican and Puerto Rican ancestry.11
  • Obesity increases the risk of stroke. About half of Hispanic women have obesity.16

How can I prevent stroke?

A woman getting her blood pressure checked.

High blood pressure is one of the main risk factors for a stroke. Measure your blood pressure regularly to help your health care team diagnose any health problems early.

Most strokes can be prevented by keeping medical conditions under control and making healthy lifestyle changes:

Know your ABCS of heart and brain health:

  • Aspirin: Aspirin may help reduce your risk for stroke, but you should check with your doctor before taking aspirin, because it can make some types of stroke worse. Before taking aspirin, talk with your doctor about whether it is right for you.
  • Blood pressure: Control your blood pressure with healthy lifestyle changes (see below) and take your blood pressure medicines as directed. Learn more about blood pressure.
  • Cholesterol: Manage your cholesterol with healthy lifestyle changes and take your medicine as directed. Learn more about cholesterol.
  • Smoking: Don’t start smoking. If you do smoke, learn how to quit.

Get tips and ideas for healthy eating and make a personalized meal plan at MyPlateexternal icon from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Make lifestyle changes:

  • Eat healthy: Choose healthy foods most of the time, including foods with less salt, or sodium, to lower your blood pressure, and that are rich in fiber and whole grains to manage your cholesterol. Learn more about healthy eatingexternal icon.
  • Get regular physical activity: Regular activity helps you reach and maintain a healthy weight and keeps your heart and blood vessels healthier.

Work with your health care team:

  • Talk to your doctor about your chances of having a stroke, including your age and whether anyone in your family has had a stroke.
  • Get other health conditions under control, such as diabetes or heart disease.

What is CDC doing about stroke?

CDC and its partners are leading national initiatives and programs to reduce rates of death and disability caused by stroke and to help women live longer, healthier lives.

CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (DHDSP) provides resources to all 50 states to address heart disease and stroke, as well as helping lead or support the following:

  • The WISEWOMAN program provides low-income, underinsured, or uninsured women with chronic disease risk factor screening, lifestyle programs, and referral services in an effort to prevent heart disease and strokes.
  • The Paul Coverdell National Acute Stroke Program funds states to measure, track, and improve the quality of care for stroke patients. The program works to reduce death and disabilities from stroke.
  • The Million Hearts®external icon initiative, which is co-led by CDC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, works with other federal agencies and private-sector partners to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke and prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2022.