STROKE: FEMALE, HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE, HIGH SUGAR, & OVER 45
If that’s you, it’s important to make changes now. Don’t wait because a stroke is not going to wait. Too commonly, I see middle aged women who ignore their rising blood sugar and blood pressure. Stroke is the third leading cause of death among women, more than breast cancer. It’s important to take prevention seriously.
In my first year of practice, two of my patients experienced strokes. One was only 48 years old. She was starting to get hot flashes so had come to see me and wanted to naturally treat her high cholesterol (over 300) and very high blood pressure. She was active, normal weight, and ate healthy. She didn’t think she needed medication. She felt good, looked good, took care of herself. Despite my advice which agreed with her medical doctor’s, she didn’t want to take medication. 3 months later she had a stroke. Fortunately, she was at home with her husband who noticed she was acting strangely. He took her to the hospital where they treated her immediately. Her life was saved and within a year, she was able to recover her speech and full mobility. She was lucky and she continues to be a lesson to me as a doctor. Never think just because you look and feel good that you can ignore the numbers. As a naturopathic doctor, I know natural ways to treat high blood pressure and high cholesterol but I will also be brutally honest with my patients if I believe they need medications.
MORE WOMEN THAN MEN DIE FROM STROKE EACH YEAR
6 in 10 Americans who die from stroke are women. Every year, approximately 55,000 more women than men have strokes and 84,000 American women die every year from a stroke compared to 56,000 men. Both men and women share the same risk factors such as; high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, lack of exercise, and obesity. So, why more women than men? Hormones.
Women experience massive shifts and fluctuations in hormones when pregnant and when approaching menopause (perimenopause). Women ages 45 to 54, the average perimenopausal age, are more than twice as likely as men the same age to suffer a stroke. Twice as likely and as young as 45!
ORAL BIRTH CONTROL
10 million women in the United States use oral birth control, mostly to prevent pregnancy and sometimes for the whole or majority of the reproductive years. In addition, oral birth control is used for migraines, heavy periods, painful cysts, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and menopausal symptoms. Oral use of estrogen increases the risk of stroke, especially when combined with progestins (non bio-identical progesterone).
Always ask your doctor or naturopathic doctor what your options are for birth control. There are other options. IUDs are effective non hormonal or low hormone. If an IUD is not a good choice, there are low dose oral contraceptives like LoEstrin.
If you have been prescribed oral birth control for anything other than to prevent pregnancy, seek out a naturopathic doctor who is knowledgeable not only about the use of birth control but also alternatives. In some cases, the birth control pill is the best option but not all.
If you are experiencing menopausal symptoms, the oral birth control pill is a poor choice for treatment. Find a naturopathic doctor who can prescribe bio-identical hormones. Bio-identical hormone prescriptions contain much lower doses of hormones and are more effective because they are identical to a woman’s natural hormones. Bio-identical hormones have been in use for the past 50 years and interest in them grew after non bio-identical hormones were found to be linked to increased stroke risk and breast cancer.
Can bio-identical hormone replacement therapy increase your risk for stroke? Increased risk of stroke has only been proven in non bio-identical, oral hormone replacement therapy. This is why in my practice I only use bio-identical hormones, topically applied estrogens, topical progesterone, and low dose oral progesterone for only certain complaints. Study after study is finding that topical trans dermally applied hormones do not increase the risk of stroke and some studies suggest that topical estriol may prevent strokes. Before you use estriol, ask your naturopathic doctor about how much to take and how. Never take hormones without advice from your doctor.
This is another time in a woman’s life when hormones fluctuate but in a young woman, these fluctuations do not pose a danger unless accompanied by high blood pressure and/or diabetes. Then, stroke becomes a real risk in pregnancy. Proper prenatal care should prevent these strokes so if you are pregnant, make sure your doctor monitors your blood pressure and blood sugars.
Another factor that increases a woman’s risk for stroke is migraine, in particular migraine with an aura (sensory disturbances). There is no significant increase found in migraine sufferers without auras. Women who suffer from severe migraines with auras should be especially cautious with oral birth control and hormone use.
What can we women do to prevent a stroke in the future? Consult with a naturopathic doctor specializing in hormones, stop smoking if you smoke, start exercising if you don’t already, and lose weight if overweight. If you suffer from severe migraines with aura, consult your doctor or a naturopathic doctor for migraine prevention therapies. There is so much both conventional and alternative medicine has to offer migraine sufferers. If you have diabetes, are pre-diabetic or hypertensive; see your doctor or naturopathic doctor and follow their advice. Remember stroke is the third leading cause of death among women, more than breast cancer, but there are steps you can take today to lower your risk and ensure a healthy future.