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Stroke and Heart Attack in Women

Posted on February 21, 2010

Stroke and heart attack in women is a major concern in our society. These conditions account for over 400,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. A new study reported by Reuters and published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association attempted to validate a genetic risk score designed to identify patients prone to developing high cholesterol and heart disease. The assumption was that if the genetic risk score was sensitive enough to identify patients that will develop vascular disease, prevention steps could be initiated more proactively.

Stroke and heart attack kill over 400,000 U.S. women annually.

Today early detection of cardiovascular disease through risk factors such as family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are the only way to profile patients that need risk factor modification or therapeutic treatments. Of course stroke treatment experts such as Dr. Lopes, endovascular neurosurgeon at Rush University Medical Center, were disappointed in the results of this study.  They understand the limitations of the current risk factor stratification systems.  It is entirely possible that by the time a patient develops high blood pressure and/or any of the other risk factors for stroke and heart disease, the opportunity for truly preventative care is lost, or at least not optimal.  While the results of this study were not encouraging, further research into this type of work is critical.  Clearly leading physicians like Dr. Lopes agree that the availability of a genetic risk score would be optimal for the super early detection of patients at risk for heart attack and stroke. This would then provide clinicians the opportunity to intervene through lifestyle modification and medications to prevent the onset of cardiovascular disease.   

Another bi-product of the study was the reinforcement of the importance of family history of any early heart attack.  Having a family member who suffered a heart attack relatively early in life was one of the biggest independent risk factors.  The researchers commented that family history “integrates shared genetics, shared behaviors, and environmental factors”

Dr. Lopes welcomes further discussion, promotion and understanding of the risk factors in women for heart disease and stroke.   Identification of women at risk is critical, and elevating the information about women and stroke is the responsibility of all involved in the treatment of this potentially devastating disease.  To that end, Dr. Lopes urges women to know the facts:

  • 93,000 women in the U.S. die from stroke each year.
  • More women than men suffer a stroke each year.
  • More women than men die from a stroke each year.

Women may report unique stroke symptoms, including:

  • sudden face and limb pain
  • sudden hiccups
  • sudden nausea
  • sudden general weakness
  • sudden chest pain
  • sudden shortness of breath
  • sudden palpitations

Risk factors specific to women for stroke include:

  • fibromuscular dysplasia
  • choriocarcinoma
  • mitral annular calcification
  • pregnancy
  • migraine
  • mitral valve prolapse
  • antiphospholipid syndrome
  • Takavasu’s arteritis
  • Retinocochleocerebral vasculopathy
  • Systemic lupus erythematousus

Risk factors of stroke for both men and women include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Family history of stroke
  • Diabetes
  • African American decent
  • Smoker
  • Vascular disease elsewhere in the body, including the heart, peripheral arteries, renal arteries, etc.

Please add your comments to this article below, or email Dr. Lopes with specific questions at info@ChicagoStrokeMD.com.