Hormonal contraceptives nearly double stroke risk in women
February 7 is “National Wear Red Day,” sponsored by the American Heart Association (AHA) to draw attention to the risk of heart disease and stroke in women. On Thursday, the organization released new stroke prevention guidelines specifically for women, reminding them that hormonal contraceptives like birth control pills increase their risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), blood clots and stroke – especially for women who are over 40, overweight, smoke or suffer from migraine headaches, reports LifeSiteNews.
“If you are a woman, you share many of the same risk factors for stroke with men, but your risk is also influenced by hormones, reproductive health, pregnancy, childbirth and other sex-related factors,” said neurologist Cheryl Bushnell, M.D., the guidelines’ lead author, in a statement. “The risk factors that are unique to women need to be recognized, and women can start decreasing their risk much earlier than they thought, even in the childbearing years.”
According to the guidelines, use of oral contraceptives nearly doubles the risk of stroke in women, who die from stroke at a much higher rate than men. Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in women, accounting for 60 percent of all stroke deaths, according to the AHA.
Citing the “well-established risk” of birth control use by older women, cigarette smokers, and those who suffer from hypertension or migraines, the guidelines recommend that women be screened for high blood pressure before starting on the pill. The guidelines also suggest that users of oral contraceptives who have one or more additional risk factors for stroke – such as hypertension, migraines or obesity – pursue “aggressive treatment” of those risk factors while on the pill.
While this is the first time the AHA has come out with stroke prevention guidelines specifically targeted at women, it is not the first time the organization has highlighted the risks oral contraceptives present to women’s cardiovascular health.