Women need to be more vigilant about their stroke risk than their male counterparts, say new guidelines—the first geared specifically to the fairer sex. While both sexes share many risk factors (think high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking), women have an additional set all their own. Pregnancy, childbirth, and hormones from birth control pills or post-menopausal therapy boost the risk of stroke, the No. 3 killer of women, say the guidelines from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, per Reuters and the Washington Post.
A few standout guidelines? Women should track and work to control their blood pressure from an early age via a healthy diet. "We're talking about being aware of blood pressure before you ever take birth-control medication, being aware of blood pressure before you ever get pregnant," says guidelines author Cheryl Bushnell. That's because combining high blood pressure with birth-control pills ups stroke risk; those with high blood pressure who become pregnant can suffer from preeclampsia, which can lead to stroke during or following delivery. Such pregnant women may want to take low-dose aspirin or calcium supplement therapy to reduce their risk of preeclampsia. More controversially, the guidelines recommend administering blood pressure medication to pregnant women with just moderately high blood pressure; the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists disagrees. "We are going out on a limb," says Bushnell. "We don't want women to develop severe blood pressure." (Read more stroke stories.)