Women and Stroke

One in 5 women in the United States will have a stroke in her lifetime.1 Stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer does, making it the fourth leading cause of death for women.2,3 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.4 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 cut off. 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 is the main risk factor for stroke. About 1 in 3 women have high blood pressure, and only about half have it under control.5

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 pregnancy.
  • Using certain types of birth control medicines, especially if they also smoke. About 1 in 8 women smoke.6
  • Having higher rates of depression and anxiety.7

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.

African American women are more likely to have a stroke than any other group of women in the United States.1 They are also more likely to have strokes at younger ages and to have more severe strokes.8

Almost half of African Americans have a risk factor that can lead to a stroke.9

  • African American women are diagnosed with higher rates of high blood pressure (more than 2 in 5), obesity (nearly 3 in 5), and diabetes (more than 1 in 8), conditions that increase the risk for stroke.10,11,12
  • 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.13
  • 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.14
  • Smoking greatly increases stroke risk. About 1 in 7 black or African American women smoke.10

Why are Hispanic women at risk for stroke?

Stroke is the third leading cause of death for Hispanic women15—and it affects Hispanic women at younger ages than non-Hispanic white women.8

  • High blood pressure is one of the main risk factors for a stroke. About 1 in 4 Hispanic women have high blood pressure, and nearly half of them do not have it under control.16
  • 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.12 Diabetes is also more common in people of Mexican and Puerto Rican ancestry.12

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.
  • Obesity increases the risk of stroke. About half of Hispanic women have obesity.11

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. Learn more about physical activityexternal icon.

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.
  1. Benjamin EJ, Muntner P, Alonso A, Bittencourt MS, Callaway CW, Carson AP, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2019 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2019;139:e1–e473.
  2. CDC. Deaths, Percent of Total Deaths, and Rank Order for 113 Selected Causes of Death, by Race and Sex: United States, 2001–2015: LCKW10_2015. Accessed April 30, 2019.
  3. CDC. Leading Causes of Death (LCOD) in Females United States, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2019.
  4. CDC. Vital Signs: Preventing Stroke Deaths. Accessed April 30, 2019.
  5. CDC . Health, United States, 2017 — Data Finder: With special feature on mortality. Table 54. Hypertension among adults aged 20 and over, by selected characteristics: United States, selected years, 1988–1994 through 2013–2016. Accessed April 30, 2019.
  6. CDC. FastStats: Women’s Health. Accessed April 30, 2019.
  7. National Institute of Mental Health. Women and Mental Healthexternal icon. Accessed April 30, 2019.
  8. National Stroke Association. Minorities and Strokeexternal icon. Accessed April 26, 2019.
  9. Fryar CD, Ostchega Y, Hales CM, Zhang G, Kruszon-Moran D. Hypertension prevalence and control among adults: United States, 2015–2016. NCHS data brief, no. 289. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2017.
  10. CDC. Health of Black or African American non-Hispanic Population. Accessed April 30, 2019.
  11. Hales CM, Carroll MD, Fryar CD, Ogden CL. Prevalence of obesity among adults and youth: United States, 2015–2016 pdf icon[PDF – 588 KB]. NCHS data brief, no. 288. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2017.
  12. CDC. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017 pdf icon[PDF – 1.35 MB]. Accessed April 30, 2019.
  13. American Heart Association. High Blood Pressure and African Americansexternal icon. Accessed May 6, 2019.
  14. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Sickle Cell Diseaseexternal icon. Accessed April 30, 2019.
  15. CDC. Leading Causes of Death (LCOD) in Females United States, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2019.
  16. CDC. Health of Hispanic or Latino Population. Accessed April 30, 2019.